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National Aeronautics and NASA/CP2000210429

Space Administration
AD33
George C. Marshall Space Flight Center
Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama
35812

Space Elevators
An Advanced Earth-Space Infrastructure
for the New Millennium
Compiled by
D.V. Smitherman, Jr.
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama

This publication is based on the findings from the Advanced Space Infrastructure Workshop on
Geostationary Orbiting Tether Space Elevator Concepts, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center,
June 810, 1999.

August 2000
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NASA/CP2000210429

Space Elevators
An Advanced Earth-Space Infrastructure
for the New Millennium
Compiled by
D.V. Smitherman, Jr.
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama

This publication is based on the findings from the Advanced Space Infrastructure Workshop on
Geostationary Orbiting Tether Space Elevator Concepts, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center,
June 810, 1999.

National Aeronautics and


Space Administration

Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, Alabama 35812

August 2000
i
Acknowledgments

Sponsors: This publication is based on the findings from the Advanced Space Infrastructure Workshop on Geostationary Orbiting
Tether Space Elevator Concepts, managed by David V. Smitherman, Jr., Architect, Technical Manager in the Advanced Projects
Office, Flight Projects Directorate, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama. The workshop was conducted
June 810, 1999, by the Flight Projects Directorate in cooperation with the Advanced Projects Office, Office of Space Flight,
NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC, and the Advanced Space Transportation Program, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center,
Huntsville, Alabama.

Cover Artwork: NASA artwork of the space elevator was created by Pat Rawlings, Science Applications International Corporation.
This illustration for a space elevator concept is taken from the geostationary transfer station looking down the length of the
elevator structure toward Earth. Electromagnetic vehicles travel the length of the elevator to transfer passengers and cargo
between Earth and space. Six vehicular tracks surround a high-strength tubular core structure fabricated from advanced carbon
nanotube materials. Three tracks carry passengers and cargo vehicles, while the other three tracks provide for service vehicles
that maintain the elevator systems. Large reels with high-strength cables work back and forth to provide small adjustments to the
position of the geostation and an asteroid counterweight above (not shown) to maintain the center of mass for the entire structure
at a geostationary point above the Earth. Inflatable spheres and space station modules provide habitable volumes for the transfer
of passengers and cargo through the station to outbound orbital transfer vehicles.

Available from:

NASA Center for AeroSpace Information National Technical Information Service


7121 Standard Drive 5285 Port Royal Road
Hanover, MD 210761320 Springfield, VA 22161
(301) 6210390 (703) 4874650

ii
TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. SUMMARY ............................................................................................................................................ 1

1.1 Introduction: What is a Space Elevator? .......................................................................................... 1


1.2 Key Findings From the Workshop .................................................................................................... 1
1.3 Future Directions .............................................................................................................................. 2
1.4 Technology Demonstrations ............................................................................................................. 2

2. SPACE ELEVATOR CONCEPTS .......................................................................................................... 2

2.1 Brief History ..................................................................................................................................... 2


2.2 A Space Elevator Concept ................................................................................................................ 3
2.3 Space Elevator Basics ....................................................................................................................... 4

3. TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT PATHS ......................................................................................... 6

3.1 Materials ........................................................................................................................................... 6


3.2 Tension Structures ............................................................................................................................ 7
3.3 Compression Structures .................................................................................................................... 12
3.4 Electromagnetic Propulsion ............................................................................................................. 14
3.5 Supporting Infrastructure ................................................................................................................. 18

4. ISSUES ................................................................................................................................................... 23

4.1 Environmental Issues ........................................................................................................................ 23


4.2 Safety Issues ..................................................................................................................................... 25

5. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS .................................................................................. 29

5.1 Pros for Building Space Elevators .................................................................................................... 29


5.2 Cons Against Building Space Elevators ........................................................................................... 30
5.3 Concerns and Possible Solutions ...................................................................................................... 31
5.4 Recommendations ............................................................................................................................ 31

APPENDIX AWORKSHOP PARTICIPANTS AND CONTRIBUTORS ................................................ 33

A.1 Workshop Participants ...................................................................................................................... 33


A.2 Additional Contributors and Virtual Research Center Participants .................................................. 33

REFERENCES .............................................................................................................................................. 34

BIBLIOGRAPHY ......................................................................................................................................... 36

iii
LIST OF FIGURES

1. Technology demonstration roadmap. Critical technologies that need to be demonstrated


prior to space elevator development include tether systems in space, tall towers on Earth,
and electromagnetic propulsion systems. Developing the technologies and integrating
these systems together could lead toward Earth to GEO space elevator developments in
the latter part of the 21st century. ................................................................................................... 3

2. A space elevator concept ................................................................................................................ 5

3. Yielding of high-strength steel as compared to carbon nanotube rope (SWNT). Note that
the strength required for space elevator construction is thought to be 62.5 GPa, but the
actual strength of a carbon nanotube rope may be much higher than that. .................................... 6

4. LEO space elevator concept ........................................................................................................... 8

5. LEO space elevator for lunar transfers ........................................................................................... 9

6. Momentum exchange facility. This orbital transfer station uses a rotating momentum
exchange tether system to transfer payloads to higher orbits. An electrodynamic tether
propulsion vehicle is shown over the horizon. ............................................................................... 11

7. Earth orbiting and lunar space elevator concepts ........................................................................... 11

8. Mars space elevator transportation system .................................................................................... 11

9. Tall tower concept .......................................................................................................................... 13

10. High-altitude multipurpose tower concept ..................................................................................... 13

11. Launch arch concept ...................................................................................................................... 14

12. Concept for a high-speed electromagnetic propulsion vehicle for the space elevator ................... 15

13. A MagLev concept called Transit used for both trains and van-sized vehicles ............................. 16

14. MagLifter launch assist concept .................................................................................................... 17

15. Electromagnetic launch systems .................................................................................................... 17

16 Reusable space transfer vehicle and propellant servicing platform ............................................... 19

17. Electromagnetic gun launch system for delivery of raw materials to orbit ................................... 19

iv
LIST OF FIGURES (Continued)

18. Space business park. A multiuse space station facility for compatible businesses
including tourism, sports, film production, and entertainment, as well as support to
satellite services, research and development facilities, and on-orbit processing and
manufacturing. ............................................................................................................................... 19

19. Space solar-powered satellite ......................................................................................................... 20

20. Modular robotic systems for space assembly, maintenance, and repair ........................................ 20

21. Asteroid attached to the space elevator beyond GEO to counterbalance the system ..................... 21

22. Asteroid materials mining .............................................................................................................. 21

23. Blue Moon tours is a concept for what space transportation out to the Moon and back
could be like as part of a future space development infrastructure ................................................ 22

24. Concept for an ocean platform city for the base of a space elevator ............................................. 23

25. Tracked space satellites and debris distribution ............................................................................. 25

26. Sizing tether strands based on repairs per day ............................................................................... 26

27. Orbital periods ............................................................................................................................... 27

28. Maneuvers required by a space station (using ISS as an example) to avoid a fixed space
elevator structure in LEO ............................................................................................................... 27

29. Bending the space elevator for collision avoidance ....................................................................... 28

30. Space elevator cross section. Conceptual cross section of a space elevator showing high-
speed passenger modules, cargo carrier, maintenance and repair robot, and a lateral
propulsion module for collision avoidance control at any point on the elevator structure.
Note also that the cross section of the entire structure is large enough that a direct hit from
a large upper stage would not break all of the structural cables. This kind of basic design
thinking will need to be put into the space elevator to ensure that catastrophic failure does
not occur. ........................................................................................................................................ 28

v
LIST OF ACRONYMS

AO atomic oxygen

g gravity

GEO geostationary Earth orbit

GPa Giga Pascal

GPS Global Positioning System

HRV highly reusable vehicle

ISS International Space Station

LEO low-Earth orbit

MagLev magnetic levitation

MagLifter magnetic lifter

MEO middle-Earth orbit

NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration

ProSEDS Propulsive Small Expendable Deployer System

SEDS Small Expendable Deployer System

SSTO single-stage-to-orbit

SWNT single-wall nanotubes

TSS Tethered Satellite System

UV ultraviolet

vi
CONFERENCE PUBLICATION

SPACE ELEVATORS
AN ADVANCED EARTH-SPACE INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM

1. SUMMARY 1.2 Key Findings From the Workshop

A number of issues were raised and resolved during the


This conference publication, Space Elevators: An workshop that has helped to bring the space elevator concept
Advanced Earth-Space Infrastructure for the New out of the realm of science fiction and into the realm of
Millennium, is based on findings from the Advanced Space possibility. These key findings included the following:
Infrastructure Workshop on Geostationary Orbiting Tether
Space Elevator Concepts, held in June 1999 at the NASA 1. Materials technology needed for space elevator
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama. construction is in the development process in
Subsequent consultation and review of the document with the laboratories today. Continued research will likely
participants was made prior to publication to clarify technical produce the high-strength carbon nanotube materials
data and ensure overall consensus on the content of this needed for efficient space elevator construction and
publication. for a wide variety of new and improved products.

1.1 Introduction: What is a Space Elevator? 2. The tallest structure today is 629 m in height. Buildings
and towers can be constructed many kilometers in
A space elevator is a physical connection from the surface height today using conventional construction materials
of the Earth to a geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) above the and methods. These heights have not been attempted
Earth 35,786 km in altitude. Its center of mass is at the because there has not been a demonstrated need.
geostationary point such that it has a 24-hr orbit and stays Advanced materials and new construction methods
over the same point above the equator as the Earth rotates on could make it possible to construct towers tens,
its axis. The vision is that a space elevator would be utilized hundreds, and perhaps thousands of kilometers in
as a transportation and utility system for moving people, height.
payloads, power, and gases between the surface of the Earth
and space. It makes the physical connection from Earth to space 3. A tether structure hanging down from GEO connected
in the same way a bridge connects two cities across a body of to a tall tower constructed up from the Earth appears
water (see cover art and fig. 2). to be the most efficient and technically feasible method
for space elevator construction.
The Earth to GEO space elevator is not feasible today,
but could be an important concept for the future development 4. Climatic conditions at the equatorial zone are very mild
of space in the latter part of the 21st century. It has the potential in comparison to more northern and southern latitudes,
to provide mass transportation to space in the same way making construction along the equator ideal from a
highways, railroads, power lines, and pipelines provide mass weather hazard standpoint. It is not physically possible
transportation across the Earths surface. The low energy for hurricanes and tornados to form at the equator.
requirements for moving payloads up and down the elevator
could make it possible to achieve cost to orbit <$10/kg. The 5. The space elevator structure is inherently flexible over
potential for low-cost mass transportation to space makes its great length and can be designed to avoid major
consideration of the technology paths required for space hazards. Minor hits from asteroid debris are inevitable
elevator construction very important today. The technology and will require standard repair procedures. A simple
paths are beneficial to many other developments and can yield analogy is to think of the space elevator structure as a
incremental benefits as progress is made toward making space 36,000-km-long highway that will require ongoing
elevator construction feasible. maintenance and repair.

1
The space elevator concept is incredibly large and Advances in these five areas over the next 10 to 20 years
complex, but no issues were found to be without some obvious will lay the foundation for future space elevator developments.
course for resolution. Given proper planning for the Other benefits to space transportation, Earth-based
development of critical technologies, it appears that space infrastructures, products, and services are evident and are
elevator construction could become feasible. discussed in the details of this publication.

1.3 Future Directions 1.4 Technology Demonstrations

Five primary technology thrusts were identified as critical Technology demonstrations were identified for tethers,
to the development of space elevators in the 21st century. All towers, and electromagnetic systems as being critical to a
have many other near-term applications for new products and technology progression toward space elevator construction
services on Earth and in space. They are as follows: capabilities during the 21st century. Figure 1 illustrates one
logical course of events over an indefinite period of time
1. Develop advanced high-strength materials like the leading up to the full-scale development of Earth to GEO space
graphite, alumina, and quartz whiskers that exhibit elevators.
laboratory strengths >20 GPa. Continue development
of the carbon nanotube materials that exhibit strengths More details on many of these technology demonstrations
100 times stronger than steel. Introduce these new as well as other related potential developments and benefits
lightweight, high-strength materials to the commercial, are discussed in this publication. The intent is to show that
space, and military markets for new and improved these technology demonstrations and developments can
product developments (see 3.1 Materials). provide incremental benefits and are logical to pursue for their
own merit in addition to their obvious relationship to future
2. Continue development of space tether technologies for space elevator developments.
space transportation systems to gain experience in the
deployment and control of long structures. Utilize
higher strength materials as they become available. 2. SPACE ELEVATOR CONCEPTS
Continue analysis and plan for demonstration of
momentum exchange and low-Earth orbit (LEO) space
elevator facilities for low-cost, in-space transfer to The following sections provide an overview of the basic
GEO (see 3.2 Tension Structures). Earth to GEO space elevator concept as well as a number of
other related space elevator concepts that have been envisioned
3. Introduce lightweight composite structural materials over the years. This basic concept for building a structure from
to the general construction industry for the the surface of the Earth into space has been around for a long
development of tall tower and building construction time, but was not well known or even seriously considered
systems. Foster the development of multikilometer- from an engineering standpoint until the latter part of the 20th
height towers for commercial applications; i.e., century.
communications, science observatories, and launch 2.1 Brief History
platforms (see 3.3 Compression Structures).
The idea of building a tower from the surface of the Earth
4. Develop high-speed electromagnetic propulsion for into space, the sky, or the heavens dates back to some of the
mass transportation systems, launch assist systems, and very earliest known manuscripts in existence. The writings of
high-velocity launch rails. Integrate electromagnetic Moses, about 1450 BC, in his book Genesis, chapter 11,
propulsion devices into conventional construction reference an earlier civilization that in about 2100 BC tried to
industry systems; i.e., doors, elevators, conveyors, etc. build a tower to heaven out of brick and tar. This structure is
(see 3.4 Electromagnetic Propulsion). commonly called the Tower of Babel, and was reported to be
located in Babylon, a city in ancient Mesopotamia. Later in
5. Develop transportation, utility, and facility chapter 28, about 1900 BC, Jacob had a dream about a staircase
infrastructures to support space construction and or ladder built to heaven, commonly called Jacobs Ladder.
industrial development. Key components include More contemporary writings on the subject date back to K.E.
highly reusable space launch systems, reusable in- Tsiolkovski in his manuscript Speculations about Earth and
space transportation, and space facility support from Sky and on Vesta, published in 1895. No doubt the idea for
LEO to GEO (see 3.5 Supporting Infrastructures). building a tower from the surface of the Earth into space has
been dreamed, invented, and reinvented many times throughout
modern civilization.

2
TSS
TETHERS SEDS Electrodynamic
ProSEDS Tether for Space LEO
Station Reboost Space
Elevator
LEO to MEO
Space Elevator
TIME
LEO to GEO
Space Elevator

15-km-Altitude 50-km-Altitude MagLev on Earth to GEO


LEO Altitude
TOWERS Communications Launch LEO to MEO Space
Launch Tower
Tower Tower Space Elevator Elevator

MagLifter Catapult
Mass Driver on LEO Altitude
Catapult on Launch Tower
Launch Tower

MagLifter
ELECTRO- Horizontal
Catapult on
MAGNETIC MagLifter
Launch Tower
Catapult
SYSTEMS

Figure 1. Technology demonstration roadmap.1 Critical technologies that need to be demonstrated prior to space elevator
development include tether systems in space, tall towers on Earth, and electromagnetic propulsion systems. Develop-
ing the technologies and integrating these systems together could lead toward Earth to GEO space elevator develop-
ments in the latter part of the 21st century.

The first published account describing a space elevator in Toronto, Ontario, Canada is the worlds tallest building. It
that recognized the utility of geosynchronous orbit did not was built from 19731975, is 553 m in height, and has the
occur until 1960. Yuri Artsutanov, a Leningrad engineer, worlds highest observation deck at 447 m. The worlds tallest
published a nontechnical story in a Sunday supplement to office building is the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur,
Pravda, which did not become known in the West. Later, in Malaysia.2 The twin towers stand 452 m in height, 10 m taller
1966, a group of American Oceanographers led by John Isaacs than the Sears Tower in Chicago, Illinois, USA. The height of
published a short article in Science on a pair of whisker-thin existing towers and buildings today are not limited by
wires hanging from a geostationary satellite. Again, this did construction technology or by materials strength. Even as far
not come to the attention of the space flight engineering back as the 1930s, architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright were
community. Finally in 1975, Jerome Pearson, working at the making designs for mile-tall skyscrapers. Conventional
Air Force Research Laboratory, also independently invented materials and methods make it possible even today to construct
the space elevator and published a technical paper in Acta towers many kilometers in height. There simply has not been
Astronautica. This publication brought the concept to the a compelling need to build structures any taller. In the following
attention of the space flight community and later inspired Sir sections the space elevator and related concepts will be
Arthur Clarke to write his novel, The Fountains of Paradise, examined in some detail to show its potential feasibility, and
about a space elevator based on a fictionalized Sri Lanka, which some approaches for developing the technology required for
brought the concept to the attention of the entire world. Pearson its construction.
later participated in the NASA Marshall tether workshops
beginning in 1983, and brought the space elevator concept into 2.2 A Space Elevator Concept
the space tether technical community. The bibliography in this
publication contains many contemporary writings on this and A baseline concept for a space elevator was created during
related subjects since 1960. the workshop to illustrate its purpose, scale, and complexity.
As described in the introduction, a space elevator is a physical
Today, the worlds tallest structure is a stayed television connection from the surface of the Earth to GEO above the
transmitting tower near Fargo, North Dakota, USA. It was built Earth. It has a 24-hr orbit above the equator in sync with the
in 1963 for KTHI-TV, and stands 629 m high. The CN Tower Earths rotation. The intended use is for transportation of

3
payloads (including people), power, and gases between the At the GEO transfer station (fig. 2(d)), passengers and
surface of the Earth and space. It is literally a mass cargo are transferred into the station or to outbound space
transportation system equivalent to a highway, railway, transfer vehicles. This station is the center of gravity for the
pipeline, and power line that connects our planet to the space total system; consequently, large reels are illustrated to adjust
frontier. the location of the station, tension of the structure, and the
counterbalance mass. Docking ports provide access to space
Beginning at the base, as illustrated in figure 2(a), this transfer vehicles at GEO, and an inflatable habitation structure
space elevator is envisioned to emerge from a platform at sea. is shown for living and working environments, perhaps rotating
The platform works like a seaport where cargo and passengers to provide some artificial gravity.
make their transfers from terrestrial transportation systems to
the space elevator vehicles. It would likely include all the Beyond the GEO transfer station, other outbound vehicles
facilities of a small tourist town, including a marina, airport, can continue on the elevator track through the asteroid
hotels, restaurants, shops, and medical facilities. In the counterbalance (fig. 2(e)) to the end of the structure at 47,000
foreground a space elevator vehicle can be seen on the km where the end is traveling at near escape velocity. Minimal
electromagnetic track that runs from the loading platform up energy is required for launch to the Moon or other deep space
the elevator structure into the sky. destinations because the rotation of the elevator in its 24-hr
orbit with the Earth acts like a sling beyond GEO to throw its
A sea platform was selected because it illustrates a remote payloads out of orbit. Without the counterbalance mass, the
location in international waters. The remote location is space elevator structure would be 144,000 km in length.
desirable from a safety standpoint, at least for the first attempt
when the risk of failure is the highest. Also, its location in 2.3 Space Elevator Basics
international waters would be appropriate for a project of this
scope that will probably require international cooperation and The most complex and demanding concept for a space
consensus to succeed. There was some discussion over whether elevator is the Earth to GEO space elevator, the primary topic
the base would be fixed to the ocean floor or could actually of this publication. In this system, illustrated in figure 2, the
float and move if needed. Either approach may be feasible, as elevator center-of-mass station is at GEO; the tether structure
well as land sites along the equator in South America, Africa, hangs down over 35,000 km to the Earth with no relative
or equatorial island nations. horizontal velocity and connects to a tall tower constructed
from an ocean-based platform. The structure is designed
Moving up the elevator, figure 2(b) illustrates a concept integrally with six tracks for electromagnetic vehicles to travel
for high-altitude support and control of the elevator tower continuously up and down the elevator structure. If a payload
through the use of inflatable platforms. This concept may be is released in LEO, it would need a propulsion system to
useful during early construction phases; however, it was increase its orbital velocity from that of GEO (3.1 km/sec) to
determined that tall tower construction through the atmosphere that of LEO (7.7 km/sec).3 Payloads released above GEO
is possible today using near conventional construction materials would be released into a transfer ellipse to a higher altitude.
and methods. Release along the upper section of the tether at an altitude of
47,000 km would provide for Earth escape.4 At the base, the
From the top of the tower to the station at GEO is a long tether structure in tension connects to a tall tower in
36,000-km ride. Figure 2(c) illustrates a concept for an compression. The taller the tower the better, since it is the
electromagnetic-propelled vehicle that can travel thousands lower section, as the structure approaches the Earth, that has
of kilometers per hour, suspended in a track, with no moving the greatest impact on the systems structural strength
parts (wheels) in contact with the elevator rails. This type of requirements and diameter at GEO.
propulsion system was considered important to the success of
a space elevator system, since any other type of mechanical One of the most common misconceptions about the space
system would require traction wheels that would be much elevator concept is the assertion that materials strong enough
slower and cause considerable wear on the vehicle and elevator to span the 36,000-km height from the surface of the Earth to
structure. Acceleration and braking are envisioned by GEO are unavailable. But, it is theoretically possible to build
electromagnetic means such that energy is used to accelerate a structure of this size out of any common structural material
the vehicle to great speeds, and energy is recovered through by simply increasing its thickness to compensate for the high
the braking process, requiring advanced energy management tensile or compressive loads. The problem is that for most
systems that will make the total system very energy efficient. readily available construction materials, it simply is not
The vehicle is completely reusable, and returns to the base practical, due to the massive quantity and associated cost that
port on Earth, transferring passengers and cargo back down. would be involved. So finding the right material in combination
with the right construction method is the key to success.

4
(e) Asteroid Counterbalance

(d) GEO Station

(b) Inflatable Support Structures

(c) Electromagnetic Vehicle

(a) Base Station

Figure 2. A space elevator concept.5

5
Comparisons have been made between the mass of 3.1 Materials
materials required for a tension structure versus a compression
structure from Earth to GEO. Interestingly, it was found that The lightest and strongest materials readily available today
when using materials of the same strength-to-density ratio, are the graphite epoxy composite materials that are commonly
the compression structure was actually less massive. The used in aerospace applications; but, the material strengths
problem with compression structures or tall towers is that required for space elevator development appear to be far more
failure is usually through buckling, and most materials are demanding. Further development of advanced, lightweight,
actually stronger in tension than in compression. So, the ideal high-strength materials will be important; in particular, the
structure will likely be a combination of a tall tower in continued development of a new material known as carbon
compression connected to a tension structure. For example, a nanotubes that has exhibited laboratory strengths 100 times
tower 3,000 km in height built with PBO fibers (a high-strength stronger than steel with only a fraction of the weight. Figure 3
polyaramid fiber available today with a strength of 5.8 GPa), shows a comparison between high-strength steel and carbon
connected to a tether extending the rest of the way to GEO nanotubes.
could be 150 times less massive than a tensile structure alone.
SWNT
This tall tower/tether concept uses pressurization of the tower 62.5
structural members, like a balloon, to convert the tower section Required
Tensile Strength
from a compression structure to a tension structure.6 Many for Space
Expected
early engineering concepts for the Earth to GEO space elevator Elevator
Limit of
have assumed a requirement for a diamond-filament cable. Elongation

Stress (GPa)
Diamond was used because it exhibited the strongest tensile
and compressive material strengths available at that time. Now, Measured
in Rope
new materials in the laboratory also hold promise and will be
discussed in later sections.

It was determined that the energy required to move a


payload along the length of a space elevator from the ground
to geostationary orbit could be very lowapproximately
14.8 kWh/kg. At todays energy cost of $0.10/kWh, the cost 0 4 7 10 14 18 20
would be $1.48/kg.7 In other words, a 12,000-kg Shuttle Elongation (%)
payload would have a low energy cost ($17,760) for a trip to
GEO and a passenger with baggage at 150 kg would have an SWNT
energy cost of $222. Of course the price would be higher, but 0.5
it is well known that all mass transportation systems in
operation today operate at a total cost that is only a fraction 0.4
above the actual energy cost. It is the high usage of the system Yield Point
that makes them economically feasible. This is the potential
Stress (GPa)

0.3
that makes the space elevator so attractive.
High-Strength Steel

0.2
SlopeYoungs Modulus

3. TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT PATHS 0.1

0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6


Five primary technology paths, or thrusts, were identified
Elongation (%)
as critical for the development of space elevators: materials,
tension structures, compression structures, electromagnetic
propulsion, and supporting infrastructures. As stated in the Figure 3. Yielding of high-strength steel as compared to car-
summary, advances in these five areas over the next 10 to bon nanotube rope (SWNT).8 Note that the strength
20 years will lay the foundation for future space elevator required for space elevator construction is thought
developments in the latter part of the 21st century. to be 62.5 GPa, but the actual strength of a carbon
nanotube rope may be much higher than that.

6
To demonstrate the difference between current technology Power transmission lines and towers
and the potential carbon nanotubes offer, a comparison of the
two are made. If the space elevator was assumed to be a tapered, Super flywheel energy storage devices
solid uniform structure using the strongest composite materials
available today (Spectra or PBO graphite epoxy), the diameter Antennas at optical wavelengths
at GEO would be 2 km and would taper down to 1 mm at the
Earths surface. The mass of the tethered structure would total Electrodes for high-energy density batteries
approximately 601012 tons. If carbon nanotubes can be made
into continuous structural members, then the diameter at GEO Integration of structures with thermal manage-
would potentially be as small as 0.26 mm, 0.15 mm at the ment systems for flight vehicles
Earths surface; and the total tether mass would be only 9.2
tons.7 This is the type of material that is needed because it Fabrics for better spacesuits and other thermal
would then be possible to increase the thickness of the carbon protection applications.
nanotube structure as needed to carry the electromagnetic
systems required for space elevator operations. Although the carbon nanotube is shown here to have the
potential to be the ideal material for space elevator construction,
At present, production of carbon nanotubes is very there are other alternatives; some will be discussed in the
expensive and limited in quantity. Current laboratory following sections. The important point is that lightweight,
production is accomplished by using a laser to vaporize a plug high-strength materials that are many times better than
of graphite and then condensing the resulting matter to grow currently available are theoretically possible and should be
the nanotubes. This process coverts 90 percent of carbon to pursued for the space elevator concept as well as for the many
nanotube materials. However, the longest nanotubes produced other applications that could benefit along the way.
to date are no more than a few microns in length.8
3.2 Tension Structures
Carbon nanotubes are the first high-tensile strength,
electrically and thermally conductive molecules. There are The second technology area is in the continued
numerous commercial applications for carbon nanotube development of tension structures for space applications. This
materials in existing markets, and potentially many new includes LEO space elevator facilities and momentum
applications that cannot be envisioned today. Introduction into exchange facilities for permanent reusable in-space
these markets could yield a demand for thousands of tons per transportation from LEO to GEO altitudes and beyond. Similar
year. Ideas generated in the workshop for carbon nanotube applications for space transfer systems at the Moon and Mars
applications included the following: could be pursued to develop permanent space transportation
infrastructure for ongoing exploration and development at those
Structural applications for all types of existing aircraft, locations. It is envisioned that these new systems would utilize
ships, automobiles, trains, etc. higher strength materials as they become available and would
build on the experience gained in the deployment and control
Future integrated structures and engine components of longer and longer structures.
for hypersonic flight vehicles
Several concepts for the development of space elevators
Pressure vessels for flight vehicles are examined in this section to provide an overview of what is
possible in the near term and to begin examining in more detail
Supersonic parachutes for commercial aircraft the complexities of the Earth-based space elevator for the far
and reentry vehicles term. This includes an overview of LEO space elevators,
momentum exchange concepts, a lunar space elevator concept,
Lightweight armor for vehicles and personnel and then concepts for space elevators in the Mars system.

Structural members for buildings and towers many 3.2.1 Low-Earth Orbit Space Elevator Concepts
kilometers in height
The LEO space elevator is an intermediate version of the
Earthquake-resistant structures Earth surface to GEO space elevator concept, and appears to
be feasible today using existing high-strength materials and
Electronic circuit devices with densities four space technology (fig. 4). It works by placing the systems
orders of magnitude greater than present midpoint station, and center of gravity, in a relatively low-
Earth orbit and extending one cable down so that it points

7
4,000 km Counterbalance and payload release
point for transfer to higher orbits

Elevator car or payload


transfer vehicle

2,000 km Midpoint Station and center of


LEO Space Elevator mass

Elevator car or payload


transfer vehicle

900 km Lunar Level, 1/6-g

340 km Mars Level, 1/3-g

Funicular designed to remove


payloads from the Space Plane

150 km
Suborbital Space Plane

Figure 4. LEO space elevator concept.911

8
toward the center of the Earth and a second cable up so that it Another possibility is to combine the LEO space elevator
points away from the Earth. The bottom end of the lower cable with a vehicle utilizing an Earth-based electromagnetic launch
hangs down to just above the Earths atmosphere such that a rail or mass driver. Due to the size of the investment required
future space plane flying up from the Earths surface would to build a ground accelerator of this size, it would most likely
require 2.5 km/sec less change in velocity (V) than a single- require the higher flight rates made possible by an equatorial
stage-to-orbit (SSTO) vehicle launched directly to LEO. The orbit and an equatorial launch site in order to make such a
space plane and LEO space elevator combination would likely large, high-speed ground accelerator economically viable. A
be able to carry 10 to 12 times the payload as an equivalent- variation on this idea would be to use a vertically oriented, 4g
sized SSTO launch vehicle without the LEO space elevator. ground accelerator mounted on a 4.5-km-tall tower to
The length of the upper cable is chosen so that its endpoint is accelerate a launch vehicle to 600 m/sec as a way of further
traveling at slightly less than Earth escape velocity for its reducing the launch vehicles V requirements and increasing
altitude. This is done so that a spacecraft headed for higher its payload fraction. In this way it might be possible to keep
orbit, the Moon, or beyond, can be placed in the proper orbit the cost of the ground accelerator down to an amount that would
with only minimal use of its onboard propellant. be profitable at a much lower flight rate, thereby allowing the
LEO space elevator to be in a resonant orbit in the plane of the
The overall length of a LEO space elevator from the ecliptic.
bottom end of its lower cable to the top end of its upper cable
is anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 km, depending on the amount In addition to allowing spacecraft leaving the upper end
of launch vehicle V reduction desired. For example, a 2,200- of the cable to be released at near Earth escape velocity, people
km-long system provides a 1.6-km/sec reduction in launch traveling to the Moon or Mars would be able to experience
vehicle V, while a 3,000-km-long system gives a 2-km/sec those gravity levels on the LEO space elevator prior to
reduction, and a 3,800-km-long system offers a 2.3-km/sec departure. A station located at 340-km altitude would
reduction. It should be possible to launch a LEO space elevator experience Mars gravity levels while another station at 900-
in segments using existing launch systems. Once on orbit the km altitude would be at a gravity level similar to the Moon.
LEO space elevator would then use its own onboard propulsion These stations would also be good for people returning to Earth
system to raise itself to the necessary orbital altitude while from long stays in low or zero gravity as they would allow
reeling out the upward and downward pointing cables as it them to gradually reacclimate themselves to full Earth gravity.
went. Another advantage of this system is that as the market The Earth arrival/departure terminal at the bottom of the lower
expands and materials improve, it could continue to grow in cable is at about one-half Earth gravity (fig. 4).
length and diameter, further reducing launch V and increasing
system payload capacity. It even appears possible to grow the There are three major issues associated with LEO space
LEO space elevator into the full-length, 35,000-km-plus space elevator operations that will require some type of propulsion
segment length of the Earth surface to GEO space elevator if system included in the design. These are atmospheric drag
that were desired. caused by the lower end of the cable, movement of payloads
up and down the cable, and changes to the systems center of
The concept illustrated in figure 4 is a long, freely orbiting, gravity and orbital altitude that are the result of arriving and
vertically oriented tether structure that completes 12 orbits per departing spacecraft.
day. The fact that it is a freely orbiting system and not attached
to the Earth at its lower end allows the system to be placed in
an inclined orbit aligned with the plane of the ecliptic. This
has advantages for traveling to the Moon and other planets as
it would avoid plane change maneuvers and would greatly
increase the number of launch windows for a given timeframe
(fig. 5). Another advantage of the inclined orbital plane is that
if a resonant orbit is used, the lower end of the system will
pass within range of most of the worlds major airports twice
a day on a fixed schedule. Once the velocity required to reach
the lower end of the LEO space elevator is down to the Mach Transfer Vehicle
16 range or less, horizontal takeoff and landing space planes Earth
operating out of those airports appear to become both LEO Space
Elevator
technically and economically feasible.

Figure 5. LEO space elevator for lunar transfers.

9
The majority of the atmospheric drag is caused by the space applications today. There are no hot gases created and
lower end of the cable between the lower endpoint station at expelled to provide thrust. Instead, the environment of near-
150-km altitude and the Mars station at 340-km altitude. In Earth space is being utilized to propel a spacecraft via
the example shown (fig. 4), a unit payload of 5 metric tons in electrodynamic interactions. A charged particle moving in a
a 12-orbit-per-day system using T1250 graphite fibers, a fiber magnetic field experiences a force that is perpendicular to its
volume of 65 percent, and a safety factor of 2.5, the diameter direction of motion and the direction of the field. When a long
of the lower cable segments will be on the order of 6 mm. This conducting tether has current flowing through the cable, this
produces a continuous drag force of 10 N for the cable and force is experienced because charged particles are moving
an additional 2-N drag when a payload is transiting this along the wire in the presence of the Earths magnetic field.
segment of the cable. Because of the near-exponential This force is transferred to the tether and to whatever is attached
dependence of air density on altitude, and the large area of to the tether. It can be an orbit-raising thrust force or an orbit-
even a thin tether, most of the drag on a long tether system is lowering drag force, depending on the direction of current flow.
caused by the lower 30 km of the tether itself. Hence, hoisting Putting current into the cable makes it an orbit-raising thrust
the lower end up a modest amount between uses can greatly while drawing current from the cable makes it into an orbit-
reduce average drag. One way to do that is to use a funicular lowering drag force. The principle is much the same as an
at the bottom, a car at either end of a long rope, so they electric motor; reverse its operation and it acts as a generator.
somewhat counterbalance each other. Between uses the cars The principle advantage of this propulsion system over any of
can be stored at intermediate heights, while during use the the other types of propulsion systems (including ion) is the
lower one reaches down to 150-km altitude. lack of any need for a propellant to serve as a reaction mass.
In other words, solar arrays may be all that is needed to produce
Movement of people and cargo to various locations on the energy required. This means lower recurring cost. Today,
the LEO space elevator will be via elevator. These mass large-scale reboost by electrodynamic tether is not a proven
movements will cause the LEO space elevators center of technology, but a technology demonstration is being developed
gravity to move, and as a result, change the systems orbital and will be tested on orbit in the near future.13
altitude. The arrival and departure of spacecraft will cause even
greater changes in the center of gravity. Consequently, it will 3.2.2 Momentum Exchange Tethers
be necessary to constantly fly the LEO space elevator to
maintain its orbital altitude within a certain range. The smaller Another near-term concept for space transportation that
of these center of gravity movements may be dealt with by is related to space elevator technology is the momentum
raising and lowering the upper and lower endpoint terminals exchange tether. Rotating tether transportation stations located
and with local adjustments of the midpoint station. Large center in Earth, lunar, and Mars orbits have been proposed for payload
of gravity changes will require a propulsion system on the transfer between points in space as well as from the planetary
LEO space elevator to raise or lower its orbit. In the cases of surface to space (fig. 6). Some of these concepts for rotating
launch vehicle arrivals from Earth, departures of a spacecraft tethers are quite complex but could be developed in stages as
to the Moon or higher orbits, or transfers of a large payloads a means for transfer of payloads from one orbit to another. In
cargo up the cable, it will be necessary to use the propulsion one scenario a rotating tether in lunar orbit reaches down to
system to speed the LEO space elevator up and raise its orbit. the surface of the Moon to drop off and pick up payloads. The
In the cases of lunar arrivals, departures to Earth, or large payload is then captured in a high-Earth orbit and passed down
payloads moving down the cable, it will be necessary to use to another elevator in LEO. Innovative facilities like this will
the propulsion system to slow the LEO space elevator down help develop the infrastructures in space needed for future
and lower its orbit. Sizing of the propulsion system will be space elevator developments.
determined by the amount of center of gravity travel and the
flight rate. Lower flight rates will allow more time between 3.2.3 Lunar Space Elevator Concepts
arrivals and departures, thereby allowing for a smaller, lower
thrust propulsion system, while higher flight rates will require Another near-term application of the space elevator
a larger, more powerful system. As the system matures and concept could be demonstrated at the Moon. The one-sixth
the mass flow moving down the cable matches the mass flow gravity at the Moon makes it theoretically possible to construct
moving up the cable, the propulsion system will only be needed tethered connections from the surface of the Moon to the
for drag makeup. lagrange libration points L1 and L2, on the near and far side,
respectively, using existing materials (Kevlar, Spectra, or PBO
There are two prime candidate technologies for this graphite epoxy).14
propulsion system: ion propulsion and electrodynamic tether
propulsion. Electrodynamic tether propulsion12 is unlike most It has been envisioned that on the near side of the Moon
other types of space propulsion in use or being developed for such a structure could become the transportation system for

10
Earth
LEO to GEO Lunar
LEO Space Space Elevator Towers
Elevator
L1 Moon L2
LEO
GEO Earth to GEO
Space Elevator

Figure 7. Earth orbiting and lunar space elevator concepts.

3.2.4 Mars Space Elevator Concepts

At Mars, proposals have been studied for tethered elevator


type structures in a low-Mars orbit, and extended from the
two moons in orbit around the planet, Phobos and Deimos.
Both moons are in the same orbital plane around Mars at near
equatorial inclinations. Tether structures extended toward and
away from Mars on each of these moons have been shown
to provide a means of payload transfer to and away from
Mars that would significantly reduce propellant requirements
(fig. 8).

The material strength required for a system like this appear


to be within the limits of current technology. In one possible
design, a Kevlar tether is used to transfer a 20,000-kg payload
from a low-Mars orbit to a Mars-Earth transfer orbit.16 Such a
Figure 6. Momentum exchange facility.15 This orbital trans- system in orbit around Mars could be one way to establish a
fer station uses a rotating momentum exchange permanent transportation infrastructure for ongoing exploration
tether system to transfer payloads to higher orbits. and development of the Mars system.
An electrodynamic tether propulsion vehicle is
Mars
shown over the horizon.
Escape
Phobos
moving materials to L1 in support of solar-powered satellite
construction and propellant storage platforms. The regolith Deimos

located at the base of the elevator contains oxygen which could


be extracted. Additional gases from ice deposits at the lunar Figure 8. Mars space elevator transportation system.
poles might also be transported around the Moon to this point
for transfer to L1. At L1, solar-powered satellites would
become part of a space utility system for production and 3.2.5 Applications for Tension Structures
transfer of power to the surface of the Moon and other stations
within the Earth/Moon system. Likewise, a propellant platform There are many other missions and infrastructure
at L1 would act as a service station for reusable in-space developments that are related to tension structures that could
transportation vehicles. help develop the technologies needed for space elevator
construction. Ideas for these developments were compiled and
On the far side of the Moon at L2, a similar system could are listed as follows; many are related to the current
be envisioned for lunar and space infrastructure support. On International Space Station (ISS) program:
the surface of the far side of the Moon, ideas have been
proposed for large space observatories, and as a remote location Tethers for remote rendezvous and capture of unproven
for the long-term storage of hazardous materials like the nuclear commercial vehicles at the ISS
waste generated on Earth that must be stored safely for
thousands of years. Figure 7 illustrates the concept for a Orbital tethers using electrodynamic propulsion dem-
tethered satellite at the Moon as well as the other concepts onstrating incrementally longer lengths (i.e., 10, 50,
discussed within the Earth/Moon system. 250, 1,000 km, etc.)

11
Tethered mass at ISS for center of gravity control materials strength; it is simply that there has not been a good
economic reason to build towers any taller than have been built
Electrodynamic reboost for ISS so far.
Tethers to drop payloads and expendable materials from One approach in determining the maximum height
ISS practical for various tower construction materials is to look at
Tethers attached to ISS for remote storage and transfer the maximum height of a column that can just support its own
propellants weight. This is done by dividing the column materials strength
by its density (strength ksi/density lb/in.3 = height in inches).
Tethers to demonstrate ISS towing with the Space The two most common tower construction materials yield the
Shuttle following results:17
Electrodynamic tethers for magnetic braking at Jupiter
and power generation on exploration spacecraft Structural steel = 60 ksi/0.3 lb/in.3 = 200,000 in. = 5 km
theoretical
Tapered tethers for long suspension bridges
Aluminum = 60 ksi/0.1 lb/in.3 = 600,000 in. = 15 km
Lighter weight cables for construction and mechanical theoretical.
systems.
If new composite materials were introduced to the
As high-strength materials are introduced into commercial conventional construction industry, then even greater heights
markets, there will be more applications that are not possible would be possible. Using the same analysis yields the following
to envision today. Technology development and growth in this result:
market will help make long-term development of space
elevators possible. Carbon/epoxy composite = 300 ksi/0.066 lb/in.3 = 4.5106
in. = 114 km theoretical.
3.3 Compression Structures
Real designs will use a lower design stress and have
The third technology area is in the continued development structural overhead for horizontal members to provide stability
of tall towers for Earth applications, and eventually for space and strength against buckling. Instead of a single column, it
applications. This requires the introduction of lightweight will be a tapered tower with a height-to-base width ratio of 20
composite structural materials to the general construction (i.e., a 20-km-tall tower would require a 1-km-wide base). By
industry for the development of tall tower and building increasing the base width and distributing the load of the upper
construction systems. The goal is to foster the development of sections over more area and more members in the lower
multikilometer-height towers for commercial applications (i.e., sections, then even taller tower heights are conceivable. An
communications, science observatories, and launch platforms). approach to this type of tower construction is illustrated in
figure 9.
3.3.1 Tall Towers
This tall tower concept (fig. 9) uses a fractal truss design
Today, the worlds tallest self-supporting building is the with the main columns made up of smaller trusses, which in
CN Tower in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It was built from 1973 turn are made of smaller trusses. This approach minimizes
1975, is 553 m in height, and has the worlds highest wind load, provides reasonable component sizes, and would
observation deck at 447 m. The tower structure is concrete up lend itself to a robotic assembly method. For stability against
to the 447-m observation deck level. Above the observation buckling, the height-to-base width ratio of 20 is used.17
deck is a steel structure supporting radio, television, and
communication antennas. The total weight of the tower is 3.3.2 Pressurized Tower Concept
300,000 tons. The height of existing towers and buildings
today are not limited by construction technology or by One of the most fundamental problems with high-strength
materials strength. Conventional materials and methods make materials is that they are typically stronger in tension than in
it possible even today to construct towers many kilometers in compression. For example, the strongest compression material
height. When considering how high a tower can be built, it is readily available is boron/epoxy, capable of supporting its own
important to remember that it can be built out of anything if weight up to 122.5 km in height. Whereas, the strongest tensile
the base is large enough. Theoretically, you could build a tower material readily available today is PBO graphite epoxy, a high-
to GEO out of bubble gum, but the base would probably cover strength polyaramid fiber capable of supporting its own length
half the sphere of the Earth. The height of existing towers and up to 373.8 km. What is needed is a way to convert tensile
buildings today are not limited by building technology or by strength into compressive strength.6

12
3.3.3 Tall Tower Applications
Tall towers that extend up through the Earths thick
atmosphere appear to have numerous applications for
government and commercial purposes and appear to be feasible
in the near term from a materials capability standpoint. Two
concepts illustrated in this section help explain the wide variety
of uses that tall towers could perform.

Figure 10 illustrates a tall tower concept 50 km in height


constructed from composite materials. Its primary use is to
launch payloads from a rotating tether to LEO or to a LEO
space elevator shown over the horizon. Other uses for towers
of this height include the following:

Communications boost: A tower tens of kilometers in


height near large metropolitan areas could have much
higher signal strength than orbital satellites.
Observation platform: A permanent observatory on a
tall tower would be competitive with airborne and
orbital platforms for Earth and space observations.
Figure 9. Tall tower concept.
Solar power receivers: Receivers located on tall towers
The pressurized tower concept is a way to do thisconvert for future space solar power systems would permit use
tensile strength of materials into compressive strength. of higher frequency, wireless, power transmission
Consider a balloon as an example. The rubber fabric has tensile systems (i.e., lasers).
strength, but falls flat under compression from its own weight.
Once inflated, the air pressure inside the balloon converts the Drop tower: Tall towers several tens of kilometers in
structure into a pressurized shell capable of withstanding both height could provide several minutes of free-fall time
tension and compression loads. for microgravity science experiments.
Deep sea platforms: Tower construction technology
By converting tensile strength into compressive strength of this magnitude means it would be possible to support
with a pressurized shell, PBO fibers can be used to build towers deep sea platforms from the ocean floor even to the
many times taller than would otherwise be possible. For maximum depth of the ocean at 11 km.
example, a tower 3,000 km in height is theoretically possible
using PBO fiber, and it would still be less massive than the LEO communications satellite replacement:
CN Tower. The tower would be constructed in segments with Approximately six to ten 100-km-tall towers could
bulkheads to keep the pressurized gas from migrating to the provide the coverage of a LEO satellite constellation
bottom of the tower. Increased loads toward the bottom can be with higher power, permanence, and easy upgrade
supported by increasing the pressure in the lower sections or capabilities.
by increasing the cross-sectional area of the gas.6

A problem with a tower of this height is failure through 4,000 km Elevator

buckling. Although the PBO fiber materials in combination


with a pressurization system can likely handle the compressive HRV

loads, some type of active stabilization system would be 300 km

required to keep the tower vertical. Today, many tall buildings


include active control systems to control movement from high
winds and earthquakes. These systems provide sway control 1,000 m
9 km
for additional comfort in high winds and stabilization during
6 rpm
earthquake emergencies. However, no tall buildings or
structures have been built with their basic structural integrity 50 km

dependent on an active system.

Figure 10. High-altitude multipurpose tower concept.5

13
Figure 11 illustrates a launch arch concept that uses a series 3.4 Electromagnetic Propulsion
of tall towers in combination with an electromagnetic launch
assist rail. At 15 km in height, this system has the potential to The fourth technology area is in the continued devel-
significantly improve the performance of future reusable launch opment of electromagnetic propulsion systems. Electro-
vehicles by providing a permanent first stage and by launching magnetic propulsion is important to the space elevator concept
above 83 percent of the Earths atmosphere.18 because of the need for a high-speed, noncontact transportation
system to quickly traverse the space elevators great length.
Technology development would include the application of
electromagnetic systems to a variety of transportation systems
including MagLev for propulsion of trains, MagLifter for
launch assist of new, reusable launch vehicles, and mass driver
and rail gun systems for propulsion of payloads to orbit at
high-g levels.

3.4.1 Elevator Climbing Mechanisms

Mechanical mechanisms are in existence today for


elevators in tall buildings. The problem with these systems is
that they are mechanical, and require cables and guide wheels
in contact with supporting rails in order to climb the structure.
This type of system may be used for the space elevator, and
may well be the only way to climb the elevator during its
construction phase. The purpose for exploring electromagnetic
technology for the elevator is to develop a means by which
vehicles can climb up and down the elevator without contacting
the structure or guide rails. This would then lend itself to a
system that would be very low maintenance on both the
Figure 11. Launch arch concept.5 vehicles and the structure, and potentially very fast. High-speed
systems in the thousands of kilometers per hour are desirable
due to the great length to be traveled in space. Another reason
Other potential uses for such a system include the
for the pursuit of an electromagnetic system is a concept for
following:
energy recovery. Energy is used during the initial lift and
acceleration phase up the elevator. With an electromagnetic
Variable-gravity (g) launch: A rail designed for low-g
system there is the potential that electrical energy could be
launch assist could use a similar configuration designed
recovered in the braking phase to slow the vehicle down. An
for high-g launch. Propellants and raw materials could
energy management system that recovers and reuses this energy
be delivered to LEO with minimal upperstage
could make the total system very energy efficient.19
requirements.
One analysis determined that the energy required to climb
Entertainment: Tourism to the edge of space where
the space elevator from the ground to GEO would be 60 MJ/
passengers could see the darkness of space and the
kg. If an energy system were used equivalent to the ISS solar
curvature of the Earths horizon.
arrays producing 60 W/kg, it would take 12 days to climb
the structure at an average speed of 125 km/hr. This is the type
Bridge construction: Material and construction
of system that would be anticipated for a conventional elevator
technology development for larger bridge span
for construction, maintenance, and repair. An operational
developments.
system needs higher power levels to reach the higher speeds
that have been demonstrated by electromagnetic sleds. To
Advantages of these types of structures include lower
reduce the travel time to 10 hr, a power level of 1 kW/kg
gravity, no weather-related interference, accessibility to
would be needed, resulting in speeds of 2,000 km/hr. Figure
upgrade of mounted systems, and permanence. These features
12 is a vision vehicle for the space elevator representative of
over the long term could provide significant economic
this type of high-speed transportation system.
advantages over conventional launch systems and some LEO
satellite systems. Many other ideas that have yet to be
envisioned are always possible from new technology
developments like this.

14
Figure 12. Concept for a high-speed electromagnetic propulsion vehicle for the space elevator.5

There are several intermediate steps that can be taken MagLifter uses the same technology to achieve even
toward reaching this level of technology. These have been higher speeds for launch assist. The concept is to create a high-
grouped into low-g and high-g systems as follows. speed sled that can accelerate and release a launch vehicle at a
high altitude. This is the concept for the launch arch illustrated
3.4.2 Low-Gravity Systems in figure 11. The long MagLifter track acts like a fixed, reusable
first-stage facility that gives the vehicle its initial launch
Low-g systems are for human-rated vehicles that have velocity to orbit.
accelerations up to 3-g (3 Earth gravity levels). Two concepts
for use of electromagnetic propulsion in low-g systems are In the MagLifter concept illustrated in figure 14, a
the MagLev for magnetically levitated train systems, and the superconducting magnetic levitation sled is used to accelerate
MagLifter for magnetic lift to provide launch assist for space an SSTO vehicle to a velocity of 1,000 km/hr. The vehicle is
launch vehicles. then released from the sled and proceeds to LEO as a
conventional SSTO vehicle. This concept seeks only to provide
MagLev systems are in operation today as people movers a small portion of the total Earth-to-orbit V. The MagLifter
at several airports in England. These vehicles are levitated and does not require very high accelerations. It combines a long
propelled through electromagnetic systems at 40 km/hr. High- acceleration length and modest exit velocity to achieve aircraft-
speed test vehicles for large trains have been under like operations. MagLifter advances MagLev technology,
development for many years in the United States, Germany, which is relatively mature and has many terrestrial
and Japan. Some of these vehicles have achieved speeds >500 transportation applications.
km/hr. The tracks for these high-speed vehicles are very precise
engineering achievements utilizing electromagnetic levitation, 3.4.3 High-Gravity Systems
or in some cases, permanent magnets that require no lift energy
at all. Other vision vehicle systems have included concepts High-g systems are for nonhuman payloads that can
for integrating both automobiles and trains into a common survive high accelerations in the hundreds and thousands of
electromagnetic track system such that they can transition from gees. Two concepts for high-g propulsion systems are the rail
one to the other (fig. 13). The potential for MagLev systems is gun and the mass driver (or coil gun). Please note that both
to accelerate ground transportation up to speeds equivalent to systems deliberately use gun terminology in their descriptions
airline travel. because the resulting launch velocities from the end of their
tracks are at velocities equivalent to projectiles fired from a
gun or cannon.

15
Retractable Guidance Wings With Retractable
Side Wall Locking Wheels and Lift Magnets
Under Carriage Lift Magnets
Concrete Track With
Embedded Propulsion Coils
Flying on the Transit in the year 2024 Opposing Lane
Side View Camera of the Transit
is a magnetically levitated mini-van with
Retractable Wheels and retractable wheels for highway use, too. Corridor
Wheel Well Covers

Figure 13. A MagLev concept called Transit used for both trains and van-sized vehicles.20

Conceptually, the rail gun, shown in figure 15, may be Also shown in figure 15, a coil gun or mass driver operates
the simplest type of electromagnetic launcher because it is through an inductive reaction between stationary stator coils
identical to a linear direct current motor. A current flows and a coaxial conducting armature. The useful payload is
between linear stators (rails) that extend the length of the barrel, attached to and accelerated by the armature, which can be a
through an armature that moves along and between the stators, simple thick-walled aluminum cylinder. A large number of
and exits the gun at the muzzle. The current flows between the stator coils are stacked to form a kind of gun barrel; however,
stators and the armature through brushes so the armature can because there are no gases or vacuum arcs involved, no seals
be a conducting solid, but for very high velocities it must be a or gas-dynamic forces need be considered. When a coil is
plasma gas. The armature and its attached payload is energized with the armature inside, the rising magnetic field
accelerated by the Lorentz force which is proportional to the induces a circular current in the armature and the interaction
current and to the magnetic field generated by the current. of the induced armature current with the radial component of
Therefore, the force is proportional to the square of the current. the coil magnetic field is what drives the armature forward.
Moderate efficiencies, on the order of 40 percent for near- The series of coils are energized sequentially by computer-
term applications and perhaps 70 percent for far-term systems, triggered switches and capacitors, thus accelerating the
are theoretically possible with rail guns. armature to ever-increasing velocities.3

Demonstrated rail gun performance ranges from muzzle The major advantage of coaxial accelerators lies in their
velocities of 4.2 km/sec (15,120 km/hr) with masses of several high efficiencies (>90 percent if a superconducting bucket coil
hundred grams to 11 km/sec (39,600 km/hr) for a 2.8-gram is utilized) and the possibility of reusing the projectile bucket
load at accelerations of 50,000 to 200,000 gees. Although through deceleration by changing the polarity of the drive
significant research has been done on rail guns, there has been electromagnets. The high electric efficiency is mostly due to
limited success at development of a practical device. Current the oscillatory energy discharge from the storage capacitors.
devices are limited to a single shot per rail set due to rail erosion They are recharged virtually automatically, with the lost
or outright structural failure due to the strong forces involved energy (imparted to the projectile as kinetic energy) showing
in their operation. For example, the 2.8-gram, 11-km/sec result up as a lower voltage across the drive capacitors. The reusable
given above corresponded to the fragments of a projectile that buckets give the advantage of significantly reducing the cost
exited the rail gun after a test in which the device was destroyed. per shot. Also, unlike rail guns, coaxial accelerators can easily
Although a weapons application finds acceptable performance be scaled for large payloads.3
in a 1-kg, 10-km/sec projectile, there are serious concerns about
scaling up in size to projectiles >50 kg for space launch
payloads.3

16
HRV
Other Facilities Release Point
Not Shown
(e.g., Control Gas Membrane
Center, Landing (Design Option)
Area, Storage, 45 deg
etc.) Engine Start for Prerelease (55-deg Design Option) Approximately
Checkout 10,000 ft
(Design Option)
Primary Total Ascent:
Power 2.5 miles Decelerator Approximately
System Guideway 6,500 ft
Staging Vehicle
0.51 mile
Facility Fueling and
Checkout Approximately
Power Storage 3,500 ft
Accelerator Substations
Guideway
Ref. Vehicles
Rocket 2 Mlb
Tunnel @600 mph
(Design Option) Highly Reusable Vehicle Combined Cycle 1 Mlb
(HRV) @ 1,000 mph

MagLev MagLev Accelerator Structural Supports


Periodic
Guideway Carrier Vehicle (Distribution of Loads
Power
Storage System on Payload Vehicle)
Units Cross Section

Figure 14. MagLifter launch assist concept.

AAA AAA
A
Current Flow
Armature Rail

AAA A
AAA
Payload
Rail Gun Bucket

AAA A
AAA
Armature Payload
(Plasma)

Rail

Driver Coils

AAA
AA
AAA
AA
Electromagnets Payload
Mass Driver Bucket

AA
Armature (With Magnets) Payload
(Coil Gun)

AAAA
MagLifter
(MagLev)
Magnetic Levitation
AAAA
AAAA
Payload

MagLev Guideway
MagLev
Accelerator-Carrier

Figure 15. Electromagnetic launch systems.1

17
To date, only very small laboratory demonstration coil 3.5.1 Space Transportation Systems
guns have been built. For example, a 135-gram aluminum
sleeve was accelerated to a maximum of 250 m/sec (900 km/ A mature space transportation system from Earth to GEO
hr) and a 339-gram projectile was accelerated to 410 m/sec will be needed to facilitate space elevator construction. This
(1,476 km/hr). Thus, the only demonstrated devices have been includes launch systems from Earth to LEO, in-space transfer
small, low-velocity, laboratory-scaled devices. None of the systems from LEO to GEO, and transportation support facilities
scaled-up issues have been addressed experimentally. To be a from Earth to GEO. These transportation systems should not
practical launcher (or electric propulsion thruster), a coil be built exclusively for space elevator construction. The space
gun will be an inherently large and complex device requiring elevator concept will only be successful if it is done in support
rapid switching of large amounts of power. For example, a of a growing economy in space where people are actively
coil gun for a 10-ton projectile would require switching electric working to make this new frontier their permanent home. As
power at several hundred kilovolts in the stator electromagnets. such, the transportation systems must be multipurpose and
This implies either a large, dedicated power plant or a highly reusable to support frequent flights comparable to
significant energy storage system (e.g., capacitors). High- todays airline and ground transportation systems.
temperature, superconducting electromagnets may find an
attractive application in coil guns, but this has not been Launch systems from Earth to LEO could include a wide
demonstrated.3 variety of suborbital, launch assist, and SSTO vehicles. The
MagLifter vehicle illustrated in the previous section with
It is not yet evident which of the electromagnetic systems electromagnetic launch (fig. 14) is one concept that may be
described above would be best suited for the space elevator or able to meet the kind of operational demands anticipated. Other
exactly how any of them could be integrated into a space systems derived from current X33 and X34 technology may
elevator structure that needs to be as light as possible. Low-g be successful as well. Whatever the launch systems turn out to
acceleration is needed as described for the MagLev and be, they must have safety and highly reusable characteristics
MagLifter systems, high velocities would be desirable as for a wide range of cargo types, including people, as is found
demonstrated by the rail gun developments, and energy in todays conventional ground and air transportation systems.
recovery for highly efficient operation is desirable as described
for the coil gun experiments. Continued development and In-space transfer systems from LEO to GEO will need to
application of this technology is needed for future space be safe and efficient as well. These systems could include
elevator developments. vehicles that can be used as automated or human-piloted
transfer vehicles for delivery of a wide variety of cargo and
3.4.4 Applications of Electromagnetic Technology services within the LEO to GEO altitudes. New vehicles
derived from current ISS propulsion and control module
In addition to the use of electromagnetic devices for technology may be sufficient to create this capability; but,
ground transportation and launch systems, other possible reusability will be key in making the system economically
applications were identified as follows: viable. Figure 16 illustrates a concept for a reusable transfer
vehicle operating from a propellant storage and servicing
Vertical MagLev for very fast elevators in tall buildings platform in LEO. In this configuration, it is controlled with
autonomous or remote systems for delivery of a satellite from
Lightweight rails and electromagnetic devices for the servicing platform to another location. Other uses could
launch towers and flight vehicles include delivery of people and cargo to GEO, human or remote
servicing of spacecraft, and in-space construction of large space
Electromagnetic devices for many conventional systems like the space elevator.
movable systems like doors, windows, partitions, etc.
Another LEO to GEO transportation element could
3.5 Supporting Infrastructure include rotating tether payload transfer stations as described
in 3.2 Tension Structures. Figure 6 illustrated a momentum
The fifth technology area is in the development of space exchange facility that could be located at LEO and GEO to
infrastructures that will facilitate a growing economy in space throw vehicles and payloads to nearly any orbital altitude or
to support construction of large systems like the space elevator. inclination. Such facilities may prove to be very efficient, when
Today, our progress in space development is restricted to single used with the reusable transfer vehicles and propellant
projects of limited scope in LEO. Significant expansion of platforms to grow a robust space transportation infrastructure,
space infrastructure will be necessary to create the economic because they can provide delivery from LEO to GEO with the
base and the construction capabilities needed for major speed of chemical thrusters and the efficiency of electrical
developments beyond LEO. thrusters.

18
Figure 16. Reusable space transfer vehicle and propellant Figure 17. Electromagnetic gun launch system for delivery
servicing platform.15 of raw materials to orbit.15

Finally, the ultimate LEO to GEO transportation system


would be the precursor to the space elevator itself, the LEO
space elevator, also described in 3.2 Tension Structures (fig.
4). The concept here is to begin with a LEO elevator and work
toward expanding its length from LEO to middle-Earth orbit
(MEO), and eventually LEO to GEO.

Transportation support facilities from Earth to GEO would


include space stations and servicing platforms to support a
growing economy in space. In support of the vehicles, stations,
and platforms, a network of propellant production, delivery,
and storage systems will be needed. This could include a fleet
of tanker-type vehicles for propellant delivery, or the use of
one of the electromagnetic launch systems described in the
previous section for delivery of water and other raw materials
to orbit for propellant production. Figure 17 illustrates a gun-
launch concept for high-g delivery of raw materials to LEO as
described in the previous section on electromagnetic
propulsion. Cost-effective ways to deliver raw materials and
finished products will be needed to support and stimulate
continued economic growth in space.

The servicing platforms, storage facilities, and space


stations to support human operations and developments from
LEO to GEO can be derived from current ISS and TransHab
technology (Transhab is a large inflatable habitat proposed
for the ISS). It is likely that human activities on orbit will have
to expand to include tourism and permanent residency in new
space station-type facilities called space business parks before Figure 18. Space business park.15 A multiuse space station
space elevator developments can be supported economically. facility for compatible businesses including
Figure 18 illustrates a space business park derived from current tourism, sports, film production, and enter-
ISS and TransHab technology for a variety of business ventures. tainment, as well as support to satellite services,
Such facilities will produce new revenue from a variety of research and development facilities, and on-orbit
markets to grow and expand a new space-based economy. processing and manufacturing.

19
3.5.2 Space Solar-Powered Systems up the elevator for construction support at GEO, and later power
would be delivered down the elevator to ground utility systems
Solar-powered systems in space are in common use today from solar-powered satellites stationed in GEO. This direct
on the ISS and most Earth-orbiting satellites. There is an power line approach could prove to be more efficient than
abundance of solar energy available, and technology work is power beaming methods through the Earths atmosphere. This
in progress to improve the performance of these systems. As idea is further supported by the findings described in 3.1
part of an overall orbital infrastructure, it is likely that space Materials, that carbon nanotubes now under development are
solar power as a utility system for space development will electrically conductive. So it appears that at least one material
become an important element. In addition, space solar-powered that has potential for becoming the structural backbone of the
systems have the potential to provide an abundance of clean elevator may also be used as a good power conductor for future
energy to Earth-based utility systems. Technology development space solar-powered systems.
for collection and delivery of space solar power to Earth utility
systems is in progress now and has the potential to lead to 3.5.3 Robotic Assembly, Maintenance, and Repair Systems
major developments in space in the future (fig.19).
The space elevator and all of the infrastructure elements
described in this section will require continued advances in
robotics to support space assembly, maintenance, and repair
systems. Figure 20 illustrates a concept for modular robotic
free-flyers that can attach to the transfer vehicles illustrated in
figure 16 for remote control construction operations.
Development of standards to interface and communicate with
these types of systems can be derived from current ISS systems
where remote control of robotic systems is in extensive use.
For the space elevator, it will be important that advances are
made toward autonomous systems where the robot will
recognize the assembly, maintenance, or repair condition, and
proceed with the work accordingly. As noted in later sections
on space environments and safety issues, autonomous systems
that can make continuous repairs to the space elevator structure
from micrometeoroid impacts will be critical to the success of
the space elevator concept.

Figure 19. Space solar-powered satellite.14

For the space elevator, advances in the development of


solar cell films may make it possible for the surface of the
space elevator to become a solar collector. If, for example, the
cover illustration for a space elevator included a covering of
solar cell film around the central structural tube that exposed
only 1 m of its width to sunlight along its entire length, then
the elevator alone would have 36,000,000 m2 of collection
area.

Another interesting concept for space solar-power in


relation to the space elevator is that the first Earth to GEO
tether structure used to make the initial connection could be Figure 20. Modular robotic systems for space assembly,
used as a direct power line. Initially, power would be delivered maintenance, and repair.15

20
The unique requirements for constructing a space elevator 3.5.4 Lunar Infrastructure Elements
may create additional technologies related to robotic assembly,
maintenance, and repair. The concept for assembly of the space Developments at the Moon could have an important role
elevator in this report described construction of a tall tower to play in the overall plan to develop and demonstrate the
through the atmosphere joined to a tether structure suspended technology for a space elevator. As described in 3.2.3 Lunar
from GEO. This will call for high-altitude construction Space Elevator Concepts, materials are available today to
methods from the ground and perhaps some form of automated extend a tether connection from the surface of the Moon to
material processing, fabrication, and assembly of linear the L1 or L2 points in space on the near or far side, respectively.
structures from GEO. These systems could prove the technology required for
construction of the space segment of the elevator before it is
The tallest buildings and towers constructed today are done on Earth. If development of lunar resources proves to be
assembled from either a crane anchored in the elevator shafts profitable for overall space development, then such resources
of the structure that are capable of lifting themselves up the may be useful for development of the elevator at GEO as well.
structure as construction moves higher or multiple cranes that In general, in-space transportation systems that are developed
can lift each other up higher as needed. Occasionally, flying to move payloads from LEO to GEO will likely have the ability
cranes (helicopters) are used as was the case for the CN Tower, to go all the way to the Moon.
the worlds tallest building, where the top 102 m was assembled
in sections weighing up to 8 tons. As towers reach higher and 3.5.5 Space Resources
higher altitudes, new types of cranes, aerial platforms, and
vehicles will be needed to support construction operations. Development of space resources for materials and
For example, the launch arch (fig. 11) could use heavy-lift propellants will likely play an important role in overall space
airships and high-altitude balloons for construction platforms development as well as support development of the space
and vertical transportation up the full 15-km height of the elevator. As described in section 3.5.3 on robotics, these
structure. Taller structures, like the 50-km launch tower (fig. resource-mining systems will need to be as autonomous as
10), where little atmosphere exists, would require some form possible, requiring limited human intervention (fig. 22).
of vertical rocket-propelled platforms similar to the DCXA
technology developed for reusable rockets.

Once LEO altitudes are reached, there appears to be


several options for construction of the space segment of the
elevator from LEO to GEO, all of which will require extensive
robotic systems. They include assembly in segments at GEO
extending down to LEO, assembly at LEO extending up toward
GEO, and assembly from Earth utilizing a single-strand tether
and then multiple-strand tethers connecting the top of the tower
to a GEO base asteroid counterbalance (fig. 21). The great
length involved, 36,000 km, will require a system for
materials processing, fabrication, and assembly that is as
autonomous as possible.

Figure 21. Asteroid attached to the space elevator beyond GEO


Figure 22. Asteroid materials mining.15
to counterbalance the system.5

21
Of particular interest is the concept for utilizing an asteroid Autonomous inspection maintenance and repair
as a counterweight for the space elevator and mining its systems could enable efficient repairs to ground utility
resources to produce some of its construction materials. and transportation systems and safer operations in
Although this is only one of several possible approaches, it is hazardous conditions.
intriguing because it requires capturing and moving an asteroid
into GEO. Having the ability to track, capture, and manipulate Heavy-lift airships could enable logging from remote
the orbits of near-Earth asteroids is viewed by many as an areas, high-rise construction, and lifting entire houses
important technical achievement that could prevent future large from manufacturing plants to residential development
impacts on Earth. sites.

3.5.6 Earth-Based Applications of Space Infrastructure Reusable space transfer vehicles would make it
Technology possible to remove orbital debris before they become
a hazard to operational satellites.
Space exploration in general has produced many benefits
on Earth that have advanced our health and standard of living. Overall LEO to GEO development would set in place
The development of space infrastructures as described in this a space infrastructure that could identify and
section will certainly continue these technology advances. Of realistically deal with any potential threat to Earth from
particular interest are a few of the workshop participants ideas large asteroids.
on what could happen, but may not, unless these space
infrastructure-related technologies are developed: The interesting thing about the space elevator concept and
space development in general is that the opportunity is here to
Highly reusable aerospace vehicles could provide chart a course for expansion that is no longer limited to the
same-day delivery and return of people and payloads physical constraints of Earth resources. Through development
around the world and into space to expand travel, of these technologies and infrastructures there will be many
tourism, and package delivery markets. new benefits, products, and services that cannot possibly be
envisioned at this time from an Earth perspective.
Robust LEO to GEO transportation systems would
permit human interaction in the servicing and
development of large GEO platforms for a variety of
industries.

Servicing systems in space would permit lower cost


satellite systems that can be refueled, upgraded, and
repaired as needed.

Space business park developments could lead to many


new space industry developments for travel, tourism,
entertainment, sports, film production, medical
facilities, and materials development.

Space-based power systems could provide clean power


for developing countries, help resolve environmental
issues surrounding the use of nuclear and fossil fuels,
preserve fossil fuels for future plastic materials
production, and reduce dependence on nuclear systems
with related military applications.

Reusable transportation systems from LEO to GEO


could enable a new market for travel, tourism, and
package delivery services beyond LEO out to lunar
orbit (fig. 23). Figure 23. Blue Moon tours15 is a concept for what space
transportation out to the Moon and back could
be like as part of a future space development
infrastructure.

22
4. ISSUES

Major issues related to the space elevator concept tended


to focus on either environmental or safety concerns. The
environmental issues dealt primarily with the effects the natural
environment on Earth and in space would have on the space
elevator system. Some of these concerns led to safety issues
for people traveling on the elevator as well as for others on
Earth and in space in the event of a catastrophic failure.

4.1 Environmental Issues

In this section, environmental issues will be addressed by


examining the Earths environmental effects on the ground
segment, the tower, and the space environmental effects on
Figure 24. Concept for an ocean platform city for the base
the space segment of the space elevator. Potential debris
impacts and collisions in space are covered primarily as part of a space elevator.5
of the safety issues in section 4.2.
4.1.2 Ocean Environmental Issues
4.1.1 Equatorial Ocean Platform
Ocean currents at the equator move from east to west
The baseline concept for the space elevator, illustrated on except near the surface where there is an equatorial counter
the cover and in figure 2, is located at the equator on an ocean current that moves from west to east. Water temperatures from
platform. Initial analysis made the ocean platform attractive 2428 C (7582 F) are typical with cold water up-wells along
for both safety, transportation, and political related reasons. western coastlines near 20 C (68 F) periodically. Precipitation
Land locations on islands or mountaintops along the equator is greater than evaporation at the equatorial region, making
are also possible. the ocean less salty at the equator than at higher and lower
latitudes.13 Ocean depth along the equator varies to a maximum
The ocean platform provides one of the most remote depth <8 km.21
locations possible for space elevator construction. This is
desirable, especially for the first elevator, in the event of 4.1.3 Atmospheric Conditions
catastrophic failure. As described in earlier sections, the center
of mass for the entire space segment of the space elevator would Wind conditions in the equatorial regions are calm, varying
be located at a geostationary orbit directly over one point on from near 0 to 16 km/hr year round. Higher wind speeds in
the Earths equator. In addition, the worst-case weather the jet stream are <54 km/hr, and have minimal impact due to
conditions at the equator are milder than anywhere else on the low air pressure at higher altitudes. At altitudes of the
Earth. This makes the equatorial location important from both highest stratospheric balloons, 3545 km, the wind speed
a construction and stability standpoint. generally does not exceed 180 km/hr. At 25-km altitude the
wind speed is <72 km/hr. Lower altitudes have lower wind
The location off land is not necessarily detrimental to speeds and higher altitudes have less air pressure, which results
construction and operational access. If the base is developed in a maximum dynamic pressure at 10 km in altitude.22
as a major port for shipping and air transportation, then it can
develop as a city island (fig. 24). In addition, if the base can be Of particular interest is that hurricanes are not possible at
constructed as a floating platform and not be anchored or the equator. The rotation of the Earth causes all winds in
structurally supported from the ocean floor, then the entire hurricanes, tornados, and cyclones to rotate counterclockwise
structure would be mobile, such that adjustments in its final in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern
location might be possible. Hemisphere. At the equator the rotation can occur in either
direction, but cannot sustain the high concentrations of angular
A system of this scale will have both international appeal momentum required for the formation of destructive
and international issues to be resolved. For that reason, its windstorms.13
location in international waters may be an advantage for the
space elevator developers by providing freedom from the many Rainfall can vary widely from 0.04 to 7.3 m per year,
additional constraints and safety concerns that might otherwise depending on the location along the equator. This has produced
be imposed by governmental bodies on land. some of the most arid lands and tropical rain forests in the
world in the equatorial regions.13

23
4.1.4 Gravitational Field velocities since its rotation is fixed with the rotation of the
Earth. This will decrease the AO effects on the space elevator
The most stable gravitational location for the construction structure.23
of a space elevator is in the Indian Ocean at 70 E., which is
south of India near the Maldives Islands. Second to that is a 4.1.6.2 Space debris. Space debris is a concern for space
site in the eastern Pacific at 104 W. near the Galapagos Islands. elevator systems as well as all space systems in general. Small
Any location along the equator could be feasible, although debris only millimeters in diameter can sever tethers, damage
some advantage might be found for the first elevator shielding, and potentially puncture pressure vessels, leading
construction at one of these sites.22 to catastrophic rupturing. Secondary ejecta from the initial
impact can potentially cause widespread damage and produce
On the island of Gan in the Maldives, the average low additional hazards for other spacecraft. These issues will be
temperature is 24 C (75 F) and the average high temperature dealt with in more detail in 4.2 Safety Issues.
about 35 C (95 F) year round. Average relative humidity is
81 percent, and the annual precipitation is 2.4 m (95.8 in.). 4.1.6.3 Ionospheric plasma. Ionospheric plasma effects
On the Galapagos Islands, the temperature range is 24 C on materials include material erosion, changes in optical
(75 F) to 29 C (85 F). Upper elevations receive more properties, arcing of thin coatings, and pitting of material
moisture from mist than rainfall and the lower elevations are leading to sputtering. Electron collection of highly positive
more arid.22 surfaces can alter floating potential and increase parasitic
current flow in the system. These energetic particles can cause
In general, wind and weather conditions in the equatorial damage in materials through a variety of mechanisms. For
regions are very mild, although it was noted that little is crystalline materials, elements of the crystal lattice can be
understood about wind gusts in the tropics to be able to identify displaced. This is a big problem in semiconductors and optical
any specific issues. Icing at altitudes in the 4- to 5-km range fibers. A charge can be deposited in a material and cause a
could occur even at the equator, so a tower extending through chemical change.23
that part of the atmosphere would need to address this potential
problem in the design of the structure, rails, and vehicles 4.1.6.4 Ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet radiation will
passing through at that level. darken many materials causing changes to the optical properties
of polymer materials and thermal control coatings, and pitting
4.1.5 Space Environments of anodized aluminum will occur over long-term exposure. In
general, all metals require coatings with highly emissive
Space environmental effects on materials can be broken material to prevent overheating, and the coefficient of thermal
into distinct areas where different effects are more prominent: expansion of the various materials should be similar to
LEO, where atomic oxygen (AO), space debris, plasma, and eliminate stresses.23
ultraviolet (UV) and vacuum UV radiation effects are most
prominent; and GEO, where particulate radiation, UV and 4.1.7 Geosynchronous Orbit
vacuum UV radiation, and meteoroid effects are most
prominent. 4.1.7.1 Charged particles. Charged-particle effects on
materials will tend to darken polymer coatings, changing their
4.1.6 Low-Earth Orbit (200- to 900-km Altitude) optical properties, and causing them to become brittle. Metals
can become more hardened, affecting their electrical and
4.1.6.1 Atomic oxygen. Atomic oxygen in the 200- to thermal conductivity. Ceramic materials become darkened.
900-km altitude can have significant impact on spacecraft at Spacecraft charging caused by low-energy electrons produces
orbital velocities. It will erode organic films and polymeric differential charging, causing dielectric breakdown on
materials, oxidize metals, and can have a negative effect on materials. Surface coatings need to be static dissipative to
the materials thermal optical properties, conductivity, prevent high charge differential.23
reflectivity, vacuum sealing capability, and strength. It is
anticipated that the AO will erode the surface of exposed carbon 4.1.7.2 Solar ultraviolet. Solar UV tends to neutralize
materials like the future carbon nanotube structure proposed charge buildup. Because parts of the spacecraft are shadowed,
for the space elevator. On a more positive note, the natural the photoelectric effect tends to produce differential charging.
erosion from AO can build up a protective oxide layer on some Molecular contamination from the spacecraft under action by
metals. So, creating a total system that includes a type of UV darkens external surfaces, degrading its thermal optical
sacrificial or protective layer is conceivable. It is also properties. Even silicone exposed to UV and AO tends to
noteworthy that the elevator structure is not traveling at orbital darken, degrading its thermal and optical properties.23

24
4.1.7.3 Meteroids. Meteoroids are a concern for space 4.2 Safety Issues
elevator systems as well as all other space systems. Whereas
the space debris environment can be cleaned up over time, The single greatest safety concern identified centered on
there is no control over incoming meteoroids from space. This the hazards caused by potential collisions between the elevator
issue will also be dealt with in more detail in section 4.2. structure and other objects in orbit. This included orbital debris,
active spacecraft, and meteoroids. Orbital debris includes
In general, the space environmental effect on materials is everything from paint chips to dead satellites, which are a threat
important to the design of the space elevator system. Past flight to all active spacecraft today. Cleanup of orbital debris was
experiments provide a good database of space environmental identified as a high priority that needed to be done to protect
effects on materials, and new materials being developed will all future spacecraft. Active spacecraft were also considered a
always require testing to determine material survivability in threat to the space elevator but it was noted that future systems
the space environment. could include collision avoidance navigation systems.
Meteoroids from space were perhaps the only natural debris
4.1.8 Energy From the Space Environment hazard that will impact the maintainability of a space elevator
structure. Impacts that could cause significant damage were
Several ideas for generating energy from the space found to be remote, but possible.
environment to help lift, stabilize, and operate the space
elevator were suggested. They include collection of ionospheric 4.2.1 Space Debris Analysis
currents to produce power, use of controlled tether currents to
drive against the geomagnetic field (especially the lower The U.S. Air Force tracks 8,700 objects 10 cm in
altitude portion), and the feasibility of creating a short circuit diameter or larger that are orbiting the Earth. Of those objects,
between the electron and proton belts to generate energy. These only 300 to 400 are operational spacecraft. The remaining
ideas were not studied in depth, but were identified as areas debris is due to nonfunctioning spacecraft, spacecraft breakups,
needing further research. one known collision, and a few unknown sources. Figure 25
provides the relative distribution of known objects in Earth
orbit from LEO to beyond GEO at 50,000-km altitude.

Distribution of Objects in Earth Orbit


120

100

80
Inclination (deg)

60

40

20

0
0 10,000 20,000 30,000 40,000 50,000
Semimajor Axis (km)

Figure 25. Tracked space satellites and debris distribution.24

25
Small debris materials <1 mm in diameter are numerous General cleanup of space debris from Earth orbit was
and can cause erosion of spacecraft surfaces. Space junk larger identified as a high priority for the space elevator and for current
than 10 cm in diameter can be tracked by ground radar systems and future spacecraft. The infrastructure needed for space
for collision avoidance purposes, and could eventually be development in general, as identified in section 3.5, would
captured and removed from Earth orbit. The real problem is create systems that could be used to track and collect orbital
with debris and incoming meteoroids in the 1 mm to 10 cm debris as part of an ongoing mission to keep the orbital
size. They are difficult to track with current technology and environment safe for everyone.
can cause significant damage to spacecraft systems.
4.2.2 Space Elevator Collision Avoidance
Space debris and meteoroids 1 mm to 10 cm in diameter
are thought to be many times greater in number than the known The first space elevator will probably not be built until
tracked objects. For example, figure 26 examines the impact after the current generation of space assets have been used up.
incidents for an elevator that is built out in both directions Next-generation space systems could be designed with the
from GEO to a full-balanced length at 144,000 km. A 144,000- space elevator structure in mind and include automated
km tether only 1 mm in diameter yields an exposed surface collision avoidance systems for both satellites and the space
area of 14,400 m2. For particles 1 mm in diameter, collisions elevator. This will be critical because all objects orbiting the
with the space elevator would occur at a rate of approximately Earth cross the equator twice per orbit and have the potential
three impacts per day. Larger sized objects at 10 cm in diameter of colliding with a space elevator structure. Figure 27 illustrates
would impact the elevator at less than one per year. This is the problem. For example, a satellite in a circular orbit at
still significant since a larger sized structure is likely. For 10,000-km altitude has a 6-hr period and will cross the equator
example, an exposed area of 1 m along the entire length would every 3 hr.
increase the number of impacts for 10-cm-sized objects to
between 100 and 1,000 per year. This indicates that the design Human-rated spacecraft like the Space Shuttle orbit the
of the space elevator structure will have to consider many Earth at much lower altitudes with a 90-min period, crossing
options for both withstanding impacts, avoiding potential the equator once every 45 min. This equates to 32 equatorial
collisions, and making repairs when impacts occur. crossings per day, or 11,680 crossings per year. The good news

1,000,000
Data shown for sample tether with
average cross-sectional diameter
(material onlyNOT gaps) of 1 mm

10,000
Impact Rate (per day per mm Cross Section)

Average of three cuts per


day on different parts of
ENTIRE tether that must
Average of 3,000 small
100 be repaired
impacts per day by next size
down on different parts of
ENTIRE tether that will
cause minor damage to
strands only
1

Each tether strand must


Note: Smaller particles than be designed to survive
design size will cut impact of one particle
0.01 previously damaged strands, below this size
requiring more repair work
per day

0.0001
0.0001 0.001 0.01 0.1 1 10
Particle Diameter (cm)

Figure 26. Sizing tether strands based on repairs per day.25

26
Circular Orbit Period (GPSs), and other Earth observation systems, it is apparent
25
that the orbits from LEO to GEO will be populated by perhaps
thousands of operational spacecraft by the time the technology
20 is mature enough to build a space elevator. This congestion
could improve the feasibility of space elevator structures by
Period (hr)

15 forcing, in advance, the cleanup of all orbits and the


development of automated collision avoidance technology for
10 all satellite systems.

5 Another issue to consider is the effect a space elevator


will have on other major space infrastructure developments
0 like a space station, which are not so easily moved. Figure 28
0 10,000 20,000 30,000 40,000
indicates that a space station similar in size to the ISS would
h (km) make collision avoidance maneuvers at irregular intervals
averaging maybe once per year to once per month, depending
Figure 27. Orbital periods.26
on the clearance range desired. It was determined that these
collision avoidance maneuvers could probably be done
efficiently as part of the regular station reboost operations
is that the orbital trajectories can be determined in advanced. which normally occur several times per year. It appears
Proper trajectory adjustments made at regular intervals or as important then that when collision avoidance systems are
part of the normal reboost of LEO spacecraft could be made incorporated on both the space elevator and the spacecraft,
to avoid the space elevator structure. such systems should be very accurate to permit low collision
avoidance ranges. In other words, technology should be
Many new satellite constellations are under development developed to allow clear or keepout ranges to be measured in
for the mobile telephone industry. With the growth of meters, not kilometers, and automation will be needed to track
communications, remote sensing, Global Positioning Systems and implement the thousands of commands per year.

Projected ISS/Elevator Collision Avoidance Maneuvers Over 10,700 Orbits


(51.6-deg Inclination orbit at 400-km altitude, tether at 70 E.)

140 7

120 6
Total Maneuvers

100 5
Average Maneuvers per Month

Average/Month
Total Number of Maneuvers

80 4

60 3

One maneuver per


40 month (or less) is 2
desirable. Requires
keeping tether position
20 variation under 20 km. 1

0 0
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100

Range to Tether Requiring Collision Avoidance Maneuver (km)

Figure 28. Maneuvers required by a space station (using ISS as an example) to avoid a fixed space elevator structure in LEO.24

27
Various options have been envisioned for doing collision This is the vision behind the thruster modules illustrated
avoidance on the elevator structure including swinging the in figure 30. At any given time, a portion of the elevator
entire structure and actively bending or vibrating the structure. structure is moved laterally many hundreds of meters, perhaps
Figure 29 illustrates the kind of flexibility a semirigid structure kilometers, to implement the collision avoidance maneuver.
36,000 km in length could have. Such control would be an The operation of the elevator is not affected since a kilometer
active system capable of moving to any point on the elevator move laterally has little effect over the 36,000-km length of
structure. the total structure.

4.2.3 Catastrophic Failure Modes

Catastrophic failure or the complete severing of the space


elevator structure is the ultimate disaster that must be
considered in the design of a safe system. Such failure could
occur through impacts from space objects, excessive vibration
of the entire structure, or unanticipated structural stresses from
temperature variations or orbital dynamics, causing material
failures.

Objects released from the space elevator below 25,000-


km altitude will fall back to Earth, objects released between
25,000 and 47,000 km will enter an Earth orbit, and objects
released beyond 47,000-km altitude will escape Earth orbit. If
Figure 29. Bending the space elevator for collision
avoidance.24

Figure 30. Space elevator cross section.5 Conceptual cross section of a space elevator showing high-speed passenger modules,
cargo carrier, maintenance and repair robot, and a lateral propulsion module for collision avoidance control at any
point on the elevator structure. Note also that the cross section of the entire structure is large enough that a direct hit
from a large upper stage would not break all of the structural cables. This kind of basic design thinking will need to
be put into the space elevator to ensure that catastrophic failure does not occur.

28
the structure is completely severed, an approximate 3- to 4- move lower segments of the space elevator should be included
km/sec V capability is needed to ensure either remaining in in the design in the event of a complete break in the elevator
orbit or having a soft reentry. Given these general parameters, structure.
several options are apparent for vehicles traveling on the
elevator and the total elevator systems.
5. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Passenger vehicles traveling the elevator could require
several backup modes. In the event of some system failure The massive size and complexity of the space elevator
where the module escapes or is ejected from the space elevator concept is often cited as making such a system impossible to
track, a safe return capability could be as follows. For low conceive except in the realm of science fiction. More detailed
altitudes in the Earths atmosphere, a parachute deployment analysis of the system indicates that it is indeed very complex,
system with inflatable landing surfaces could be considered. but it is comparable to other Earth-based infrastructures that
Above the Earths atmosphere, a rocket propulsion system have been built over many years. For example, the mass of the
providing the boost needed to reach a safe orbit would be the PBO tower referenced in 3.3 Compression Structures
desired approach. connected to a GEO tether has a mass greater than a recent
Norwegian North Sea oil-drilling platform, 1 million tons, but
The space elevator structure would likely take a different is less massive than the 5 million tons of the Great Pyramid of
approach depending on where the break occurs. If the lower Giza. And even the length of the space elevator, 36,000 km
section is a self-supporting tower rising through the from Earth to GEO, is short in comparison to our interstate
atmosphere, then a release point would be provided between highway system that extends some 100,000 km, with a mass
the tower and the space segment of the elevator. A break at of several thousand million tons. Other great infrastructure
this point would cause the remaining space segment to rise. A accomplishments similar in scale would include the Great Wall
break between the top of the tower and 25,000-km altitude of China, Panama Canal, and our utility systems for
would cause the lower section to fall back to Earth and the communications, electricity, gas, water, and sewage. Similar
upper section to rise into a higher orbit. Hence, the problem efforts would seem to make a space elevator conceivable.6 The
area to be dealt with is the lower space segment of the elevator following section provides the groups thoughts on the pros
between the top of the tower and 25,000-km altitude. for building a space elevator, the cons against building a space
elevator, some concerns and possible solutions, and
The most desirable approach would be to have propulsion recommendations for future consideration.
systems on the elevator capable of moving the space segment
of the elevator <25,000-km altitude into a safe orbit for repair 5.1 Pros for Building Space Elevators
and reassembly. Second to that would be a capability for
controlled reentry into a remote ocean region. Propulsion Many benefits were identified that supported the pursuit
systems have already been identified as a need for collision of space elevator technology, most of which centered on the
avoidance; so, robustness of the total system should include potential for low-cost mass transportation capabilities to space.
control of the lower section in the event of such a catastrophy. Those ideas were as follows:

In summary, it appears important that a system needs to The space elevator is one of very few concepts that may
be put in place to track and clear out all orbital debris. This allow Earth to orbit launch costs less than $10/kg.
would be good for the future space elevator as well as all other
Lowering launch costs to $10/kg and less will open up
current and future space systems. The design of the space
near-Earth space to miners, explorers, settlers, and
elevator should expect regular impacts from meteoroids that
adventurers, which will give us a frontier society once
will cause surface erosion and sever some structural strands.
again. This will alleviate any perception of over-
A plan providing for ongoing repair and maintenance of the
crowding and scarcity of resources.
entire structure should be part of the design. Individual strands
should be designed to survive below a design particle size, The technology for developing a space elevator appears
probably 1 mm in diameter. Large impacts should be to be within reach during the next century or perhaps
considered too, such that the structure is large enough in next few decades.
diameter to avoid a total break. Collision avoidance systems
will be needed for both the elevator and all other spacecraft. A surface to GEO space elevator would be good for
This technology for future systems should be very accurate in placing satellites into GEO and allows lower
the detection of objects <10 cm, be capable of reduced clear acceleration into orbit for fragile cargo. It is a potential
zones measured in meters, and should be automated to the mass transportation system to space equivalent to the
greatest extent possible. Finally, propulsion systems that can highways, railroads, pipelines, and utility grids on Earth.

29
A space elevator can allow the construction of massive Financial tradeoffs (initial investment cost versus
solar-powered systems in orbit and help carry the power payback) and ultimate launch cost ($/kg) have not been
down to Earth. This could alleviate the problems of addressedthere may not be any real cost benefit.
large-scale power production in the biosphere, end strip-
mining for coal, reduce power plant emissions, reduce Assuming that the purpose of the elevator is to deliver
greenhouse gas production, lower radiation levels, and mass to GEO, one must ask what the cost of this delivery
perhaps have a positive impact on global warming may be using other exotic techniques that may come to
concerns. maturity in the next 50 yr.

A space elevator extending beyond GEO (toward the If the travel time on the elevator is over 24 hr, this may
ballast mass) could provide escape velocity for prove to be unacceptable to the paying public. Long
propellant-free transfer orbits to the Moon, Mars, and tether rides will require vehicles the size of railroad cars
all the way out to Mercury and Saturn. that include restroom facilities, cafeterias, enter-
tainment, and even sleeping quarters.
A surface to GEO space elevator may be the only way
to feasibly build large space-based cities and colonies Using simpler surface to sub-LEO space towers could
for continued expansion into space. GEO can support offset benefits of a surface to GEO space elevator for
massive space cities with minimal collision concerns the telecommunications industry. The tall towers could
with other spacecraft. make the large GEO communications satellites obsolete.

The elevator concept could be more environmentally An equatorial orbit, especially the GEO, is a poor orbit
friendly than burning rocket fuel in the atmosphere from which to go to the Moon or Mars, or to do almost
necessary to do the same tonnage. any escape mission. The escape direction is almost
always not in the equatorial plane. Large plane changes
A GEO complex supported by a space elevator could would still be required.
be the site for manufacturing and metal fabrication in
orbit, reducing the amount of pollution on Earth. A catastrophic failure of a space elevator could produce
massive political, legal, financial (lawsuits), and
Using extraterrestrial materials from nearby asteroids ecological disasters with massive loss of human life.
not only utilizes their resources but develops the
technology to rid space of potential asteroid strikes on Eighty percent of the benefit will be gotten from the
Earth. first 10 percent of the project (tower or tether) in
improving the payload fraction of an SSTO from 12
A side benefit of materials research for the space to a 10-percent range, at which point airplane-like
elevator would be a massive reduction in fuel use here operations in the few dollars per kilogram range should
on Earth from lighter weight structures in automobiles, be possible.
trains, ships, and planes.
If structural materials good enough for a space elevator
The space elevator is like a bridge that can support an are available, an SSTO with a healthy payload fraction
unlimited amount of mass delivery between Earth and and safety margins, which will operate with airplane-
GEO. like operating costs, can also be built.

Space elevators for the Earth, Moon, and Mars could There are numerous political issues that will need to be
create a complete inner solar system transportation addressed in order for a space elevator to be constructed.
infrastructure with minimal use of rocket systems.
Any project planning with more than a 20-yr time
The space elevator could revolutionize space flight and horizon is a waste of time because predictions cannot
space development. It could be the key to moving be made as to what will happen to technology in that
polluting industries and power production into space timeframe.
and ending pollution of the biosphere.
The space elevator seems too far in the future relative
5.2 Cons Against Building Space Elevators to the space infrastructure that could develop from more
near-term propulsion technology. Also, even if it were
There are many questions and problems to be resolved to be possible to build today, it is not clear that it can
before space elevators can be considered feasible. Some of drastically reduce the cost of delivering mass into orbit.
these problems are as follows:

30
5.3 Concerns and Possible Solutions and eventually space elevator development, will come
to fruition. A number of barriers must be overcome
There are many things that need to be done before a space before progress can be made.
elevator can actually be considered a feasible approach for
accessing the space frontier. The following concerns were 5.4 Recommendations
collected along with an explanation of what could be done to
help determine feasibility or alternative approaches: The space elevator is not a near-term project but a potential
project for the latter part of the 21st century. Sections 5.4.1
An operations assessment needs to be performed before through 5.4.6 cover activities that were identified for the near
the space elevator can seriously be considered: power term that would help determine the feasibility of space elevators
requirements, collisions, maneuverable tethers, initial and would lead down a technology path for their development.
assembly, maintenance concepts, contingency plans for
damage and breaks, and simultaneous use by many 5.4.1 Space Development
users.
Promote a national commitment to space development.
All the technical problems are important; however, the This does not necessarily mean putting a lot of public
real problem is how to fund it. It must be shown that it money into space infrastructure development. It does
is a commercially viable program. Thus, there has to mean that all branches of government have a natural
be payback to commercial partners that is in a timeframe role to help economic expansion in space in the same
of interest to them. To achieve this payback, the facility way that they have helped with economic expansion
cannot just be used for launching spacecraft into orbit from the east to west coast.
or to the stars. It would need to have multiple com-
mercial applications such as communications, Initiate studies to do detailed computational modeling
entertainment, or recreation. It should be built in stages for the space elevator concepts that include realistic
to allow for growth into a true space elevator; each stage structural, mechanical, orbital, atmospheric, and
would have to pay for itself. operational aspects of the system. Include some detailed
life cycle cost analyses to determine range of dollars
Satellites and space stations in LEO and MEO can per kilogram for user launch costs.
coexist with a space elevator if the position of the
elevator is well known and broadcast (like GPS) to the Analyze cost-effectiveness of space elevators as
spacecraft operators so that they can redirect the satellite compared to other projected means for placing
when necessary. Minimal orbital adjustments every year personnel and equipment in the space environment for
or two (random intervals) would be required to avoid the timeframe under consideration.
collision with a space elevator in most cases.
Analyze catastrophic failure modes to determine the
The space elevator makes a lot of sense if materials best methods to salvage and reconnect the structure to
with characteristics like carbon nanotubes become prevent deorbiting and collapse of the entire system.
available for long tethers in ton quantities. Short of
carbon nanotube performance, the space elevator is far Demonstrate critical technologies prior to space elevator
too massive. development including tether systems in space, tall
towers on Earth, and electromagnetic propulsion
An analysis of an Earth surface to GEO elevator was systems. Integrate the technology roadmap shown in
done in 1988 using T1500 graphite fibers (1,500-ksi figure 1 into national technology programs to ensure
fibers). It was found that the concept was not progress is made toward Earth to GEO space elevator
economically viable as a commercial system when developments in the latter part of the 21st century.
amortization of the investment was included in the cost
model and based on any possible near-term traffic Promote an international dialog on space elevators to
model. The payload mass flow required to make this ensure long-term acceptance and support for the
concept work economically is so far beyond where we concept. Even though it is very futuristic, it is good to
are today that there is just no way to a full-up Earth begin documenting and working the technology now
surface to GEO elevator without a few intermediate so the concept will have sufficient time to be considered
steps.27 internationally.

Good space development policy is perhaps the most Establish a space tower foundation that over time could
important determinate as to whether space development, explore all the options for space elevator construction,

31
fund technology demonstrations of the various Evaluate markets for tall tower services including
components, and help guide the technology communications, science platforms, launch assist, and
developments needed for its construction and safe entertainment. If a tower market (e.g., communication)
operation. appears viable, undertake prototype construction for that
purposeideally, with partial private sector support.
5.4.2 Materials
5.4.5 Electromagnetic Propulsion
Develop advanced high-strength materials like the
graphite, alumina, and quartz whiskers that exhibit Develop high-speed electromagnetic propulsion for
laboratory strengths over 20 GPa. mass transportation systems, launch assist systems, and
high-velocity launch rails. Integrate electromagnetic
Continue development of the carbon nanotube materials propulsion devices into conventional construction
that exhibit strengths 100 times stronger than steel in industry systems; i.e., doors, elevators, conveyors, etc.
excess of 62.5 GPa that may be required for space
elevator construction. Introduce these new lightweight, 5.4.6 Space Infrastructure
high-strength materials to the commercial, space, and
military markets for new and improved product Do trade studies to determine the optimum split in V
developments. between an SSTO, a tower to start from, and a tether in
orbit to land at, to determine the overall optimum in
Continue development of carbon nanotube technology lowering total capital cost and operations cost. The
even if the space elevator itself is questionable. SSTO by itself is hard, the space elevator by itself is
Lightweight, high-strength materials could resolve hard; a combination of both may be better than either
many other terrestrial and space development problems. one alone.

5.4.3 Tethers Initiate policies that require launch and payload


companies to clean up anything they leave behind to
Continue development of space tether technologies for drive incentives for debris removal systems. Fund
space transportation systems to gain experience in the cleanup of other debris from fees and licenses for use
deployment and control of long structures. Utilize of orbital slots.
higher strength materials as they become available.
Continue analysis and plan for demonstration of Develop transportation, utility, and facility
momentum exchange and LEO space elevator facilities infrastructures to support space construction and
for low-cost, in-space transfer to GEO. industrial development. Key components include highly
reusable space launch systems, reusable in-space
Continue development and demonstration of tethers in transportation, and space facility support from LEO to
the space environment at progressively higher altitudes GEO.
and longer lengths. The LEO to GEO elevator needs
careful simulation. It is not clear that this is dynamically This review of the space elevator concept has determined
stable in operation due to coriolis forces. that it is indeed a very large and complex project but is not
unlike many of the large infrastructures that have already been
Initiate studies to determine the potential current developed for transportation and utility systems over many
collection and power generation from the plasma years. Even though technology for space elevator construction
environment. Calculate the electromotive propulsion may be a number of decades away, it does appear that there
using tether currents against the geomagnetic field for are productive actions that can be pursued now that could lead
stabilization. to its eventual development. In addition, pursuit of these
recommendations and the concepts envisioned in this
5.4.4 Towers publication, could provide significant intermediate benefits for
the economic development of space and overall technology
Introduce lightweight composite structural materials to advancement in general.
the general construction industry for the development
of tall tower and building construction systems. Foster
the development of multikilometer-height towers for
commercial applications; i.e., communications, science
observatories, building construction, and launch
platforms.

32
APPENDIX AWORKSHOP PARTICIPANTS AND CONTRIBUTORS

A.1 Workshop Participants

Joe Carroll, Pat Rawlings,


Tether Applications Science Applications International
Corporation
Robert Cassanova,
NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts Eric Smith,
Global Hydrology and Climate Center
John Cole,
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Frayne Smith,
Consultant
Dani Eder,
Boeing Company Ken Smith,
Rice University
Robert Frisbee,
Jet Propulsion Laboratory David Smitherman,
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Les Johnson,
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Rob Suggs,
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Scott Johnson,
USAF Academy Jason Vaughn,
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Ronnie Lajoie,
Boeing Company
A.2 Additional Contributors and Virtual
Geoffrey Landis, Research Center Participants
NASA Glenn Research Center
Ivan Bekey,
Enrico Lorenzini, Bekey Designs
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Preston McGill, NASA
John Mankins, Marshall Space Flight Center
NASA Headquarters
Eagle Sarmont,
Brice Marsh, Consultant
CSC
Robert Forward,
Daniel ONeil, Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Joe Howell, NASA
Jerome Pearson, Marshall Space Flight Center
Star Technology and Research, Inc.
Garry Lyles, NASA
Paul Penzo, Marshall Space Flight Center
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Richard Smalley,
Rice University

33
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Pearson, J.: Konstantin Tsiolkovski and the Origin of the Sarmont, E.: Web site for image and technical information
Space Elevator, IAF Congress Publication IAF97 on a LEO space elevator concept, http://
IAA.2.1.09, 48th International Astronautical Congress, Turin, www.affordablespaceflight.com Accessed June 1999.
Italy, October 610, 1997.
Shea, J.H.: Sky-hook, Reply by Isaacs et al., Science, Vol.
Pearson, J.: The Orbital Tower: A Spacecraft Launcher Using 152, p. 800, 1966.
the Earths Rotational Energy, Acta Astronautica, Vol. 2, No.
9/10, pp. 785799, September/October 1975. Tsiolkovski, K.E.: Speculations About Earth and Sky and on
Vesta, Moscow, Izd-vo AN SSSR, 1959; Grezi o zemle i nebe
Pearson, J.: Using the Orbital Tower to Launch Earth-Escape (in Russian), Academy of Sciences, U.S.S.R., Moscow,
Spacecraft Daily, IAF Congress Publication IAF76123, p. 35, 1999.
27th International Astronautical Congress, Anaheim, CA,
October 1016, 1976. Von Tiesenhausen, G.: Tethers in Space: Birth and Growth
of a New Avenue to Space Utilization, NASA TM82571,
Penzo, P.A.: Earth Orbit Tether Transportation System, AAS Marshall Space Flight Center, 1984.
Paper 87436, AAS/AIAA Astrodynamics Conference,
Kalispell, MT, August 1013, 1987 1987. Yakobson, B.I.; and Smalley, R.E.: Fullerene Nanotubes:
C1.000.000 and Beyond, American Scientist 85, pp. 324337,
Penzo, P.A.: Lunar Orbit Tether Station Concept, Calspace July/August 1997.
Study, NASA Report CR172084, June 1988.

Penzo, P.A.: Tethers for Mars Space Operations, AAS Science


& Technical Series, The Case for Mars II, Vol. 62, pp. 445
465, July 1984.

37
Space Elevator Schematics A Space Elevator concept from figure 2, using
future carbon nanotube tension structures or
a PBO pressurized tower configuration.
250 km

Tether structures in the 2,000- to 4,000-km Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO)


range appear to be feasible with current Space Elevator concept from
materials technology. 150-to 2,000-km altitude.

AA
LEO Space Elevator concept from 150- to 4,000-km
altitude, see figure 4. A payload released at this altitude

AA
will enter a GEO transfer orbit. 200 km
A LEO Space Elevator could be grown in Tall tower concept from figure 9: The fractal
truss system has main columns that are made

AA
A station at the center of mass length to stretch from LEO to MEO, and
eventually LEO to GEO. up of smaller trusses, which in turn are made of
experiences zero gravity.
smaller trusses. This approach minimizes wind

AA
load, provides reasonable component size, and
A station at 900-km altitude experiences better facilitates teleoperated/robotic assembly
1/6 gravity (Lunar) and at 340-km methods.

AA
altitude experiences
1/3 gravity (Mars).

AA
Advanced structural materials like carbon nanotubes that exhibit
strengths 100 times stronger than steel will be required to build
Earth to GEO Space Elevator structures. 150 km

AA
Suborbital launch vehicle delivers
payloads to base of LEO Space Elevator.

Optimal meeting point for GEO Station, and center Asteroid counterbalance mass A payload release at 47,000 km would

AA
AA
tower/tether structure. of mass at 35,786 km escape Earth's gravity field.

AA
AA
1,000 km 3,000 km 5,000 km 10,000 km 15,000 km 20,000 km 25,000 km 30,000 km 35,000 km 40,000 km 45,000 km 47,000 km
100 km

AA
An Earth to GEO Space Elevator can be located anywhere
along the equator. The two most stable points due to the
gravitational field are at Galapagos Island, west of Ecuador

AA
in the Pacific Ocean, and at Gan in the Maldive Islands,
1,100 km southwest of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean.
A satellite at GEO could extend a tether up and down 75 km

AA
to grow a Space Elevator structure toward Earth.

The maximum height of an untapered


column that can just support its own weight
is illustrated in these three towers for steel,
aluminum, and carbon/epoxy composite
AA
AA
50 km High altitude multipurpose
tower concept from figure 10.

AA
materials. 40 km
114-km carbon/epoxy Launch arch concept

AA
composite tower limit. 30 km with a MagLifter vehicle
Earth from figures 11 and 14.
A GEO based platform could suspend a communications 15-km aluminum tower limit.

AA
20 km
satellite to a much lower altitude for voice communications.
5-km steel tower limit.

AA
10 km

Space Elevator Schematics has been prepared

AA
AA GEO Station

AA
AA
AA
at 35,786 km Alternate tether counterbalance at Counterbalance Mass Counterbalance Mass
for the NASA/CP2000210429 144,000 km
Space Elevators Three of the world's tallest structures:
An Advanced Earth-Space Infrastructure 629 m, tallest stayed television
for the New Millennium Earth L1 Moon L2 transmitting tower, Fargo, North Dakota This Space Elevator concept, from
58,000 km 64,500 km figure 2, is supported from an ocean
This report and schematics are based on the findings Space Elevators on the near and far side of the 553 m, tallest freestanding structure,
Asteroid Counterbalance Earth escape release point at CN Tower, Toronto, Canada platform. High-altitude balloon
from the Advanced Space Infrastructure Workshop 47,000 km Moon are possible today with current materials
structures provide possible support
On Geostationary Orbiting Tether Space Elevator Concepts technology. 452 m, tallest office building,
and stabilization through the upper
held in June 1999, at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur,
atmosphere. The space segment of
Malaysia.
the structure consists of future carbon
Compiled by 0 10,000 20,000 km 40,000 km 80,000 km 160,000 km 320,000 km 380,000 km The tallest mountain, 8.8 km, is Mount nanotube tension structures or PBO
D.V. Smitherman, Jr. Everest and the deepest ocean trench,
Lunar distance from Earth varies pressurized tube segments requiring
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center 11 km, is in the Mariana Trench in the
from 356,410 to 406,697 km. active stabilization.
Pacific Ocean.
Form Approved
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1. AGENCY USE ONLY (Leave Blank) 2. REPORT DATE 3. REPORT TYPE AND DATES COVERED
August 2000 Conference Publication
4. TITLE AND SUBTITLE 5. FUNDING NUMBERS

Space Elevators
An Advanced Earth-Space Infrastructure for the New Millennium

6. AUTHORS

D.V. Smitherman, Jr., Compiler


7. PERFORMING ORGANIZATION NAMES(S) AND ADDRESS(ES) 8. PERFORMING ORGANIZATION
REPORT NUMBER
George C. Marshall Space Flight Center
Marshall Space Flight Center, AL 35812 M990

9. SPONSORING/MONITORING AGENCY NAME(S) AND ADDRESS(ES) 10. SPONSORING/MONITORING


AGENCY REPORT NUMBER
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Washington, DC 205460001 NASA/CP2000210429

11. SUPPLEMENTARY NOTES


This report is based on findings from the Advanced Space Infrastructure Workshop on Geostationary Orbiting Tether
Space Elevator Concepts, managed by David Smitherman, Advanced Projects Office, Flight Projects Directorate,
NASA Marshall Space Fight Center, Huntsville, AL. The workshop was conducted June 810, 1999.
12a. DISTRIBUTION/AVAILABILITY STATEMENT 12b. DISTRIBUTION CODE
Unclassified-Unlimited
Subject Category 99
Nonstandard Distribution

13. ABSTRACT (Maximum 200 words)


A space elevator is a physical connection from the surface of the Earth to a geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) above the
Earth 35,786 km in altitude. Its center of mass is at the geostationary point such that it has a 24-hr orbit and stays
over the same point above the equator as the Earth rotates on its axis. The vision is that a space elevator would be
utilized as a transportation and utility system for moving people, payloads, power, and gases between the surface of the
Earth and space. It makes the physical connection from Earth to space in the same way a bridge connects two cities
across a body of water. The Earth to GEO space elevator is not feasible today, but could be an important concept for
the future development of space in the latter part of the 21st century. It has the potential to provide mass transportation
to space in the same way highways, railroads, power lines, and pipelines provide mass transportation across the Earths
surface. The low energy requirements for moving payloads up and down the elevator could make it possible to achieve
cost to orbit <$10/kg. This potential for low-cost mass transportation to space makes consideration of the technology
paths required for space elevator construction very important today. The technology paths are beneficial to many other
developments and can yield incremental benefits as progress is made toward making space elevator construction
feasible. A number of issues were raised and resolved during the workshop that has helped to bring the space elevator
concept out of the realm of science fiction and into the realm of possibility. It was found that the space elevator concept
is incredibly large and complex, but no issues were without some obvious course of resolution. Given proper planning
for the development of critical technologies, it appears that space elevator construction could become feasible.
14. SUBJECT TERMS 15. NUMBER OF PAGES

space elevator, tall towers, electromagnetic propulsion, tethers, carbon 48


16. PRICE CODE
nanotubes A03
17. SECURITY CLASSIFICATION 18. SECURITY CLASSIFICATION 19. SECURITY CLASSIFICATION 20. LIMITATION OF ABSTRACT
OF REPORT OF THIS PAGE OF ABSTRACT
Unclassified Unclassified Unclassified Unlimited
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38